Friday, April 6, 2018

BLOG: This May Not Seem Like a Groundwater Story...

by Chris Barnett, Groundwater Foundation Board Member and Indianapolis-Marion County Groundwater Guardian Team Leader

This may not seem like a groundwater story.  But it is….

A couple of years ago my wife and I started talking about a master bath remodeling project. When I went up in the attic to look behind the wall, I noticed a lot of unused space adjacent to the bathroom and the master closet. As an avid DIYer, an idea formed: I suggested the attic space could become a cedar storage closet. So the idea grew into a project, and I re-worked the master closet to install a door for attic access.

Now fully committed with a door to nowhere, I had to source the materials. I figured I’d just buy the cedar from my local big box store, but they sold thin “closet liner” material that was made to be glued or nailed into an existing closet, and I wanted something more substantial…1/2-inch tongue and groove walls and 3/4-inch tongue and groove flooring. Courtesy of Google I found a couple of sawmills that sell directly to consumers, and one of them was very interesting because of the Nebraska connection I have with the Groundwater Foundation. Here’s what I found on their website:
“The Sawle Mill buys and mills timber grown in Nebraska. Our Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is primarily harvested from the Niobrara River valley where the soil, step bluffs, and climate combine to produce exceptionally vibrant, colorful, heartwood.”
Curious, and interested in knowing how my choices affect the environment, I didn’t stop there. It turns out juniperus virginiana is native to the US from the Plains east to the Atlantic and south to the Gulf. It is a pioneer species, which means that it is one of the first trees to repopulate cleared, eroded, or otherwise damaged land, and it is especially long-lived. (Hmm, maybe I don’t want to cause it to be cut.) But in many areas near pasture or cropland, it is considered an invasive species, even if native. It is fire-intolerant, and used to be controlled by wildfires. Especially in Nebraska, fires have been stopped with roads, plowed fields, and other fire breaks, allowing red cedar to invade and grow where it is unwanted. (Okay, invasive is bad, so I might be helping!)
In the Niobrara River valley of Nebraska, there is a significant connection between groundwater and the surface flows in the river and its tributaries (something I learned through the Groundwater Foundation), so invasive trees along the river valley are using groundwater while invading the banks and bottoms. And this is where the sawmill and their customers come in: harvesting and milling red cedar trees from the Niobrara Valley helps to manage the invasive species, reduces the water use by invasive trees in the valley, and makes beneficial use of the groundwater-fed trees to create jobs and income in rural Nebraska…just like Nebraska’s other ag products.

Not to mention the end-use: beautiful, useful, aromatic, and pest-free storage closets like ours!


Chris Barnett is the Executive Director of the Lawrence Community Development Corporation, as well as the team leader for the Indianapolis-Marion County Groundwater Guardian Team, the Marion County Wellfield Education Corporation. Chris also serves on The Groundwater Foundation's board of directors. Reach Chris at

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of The Groundwater Foundation, its board of directors, or individual members.

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