With a vague idea about what my issue really was and a desire to find the “poetry of the site” [as Professor Barry passionately put it in class] I jumped into the obvious-but-not-so-well-documented issue of soil salinity in Owen’s Valley. Much to my surprise, this became an epic journey of sticky notes, compulsive bookmarking and pdf highlighting. It became more than just finding about soil salinity because frankly I could not find it directly. Most of the reports stated that salinity levels were present but it was not easy to find reports with data and maps to support that for the whole valley. I also came across a “language” barrier. Salts, salinity, electro negativity, alkaline soil, sodium, solubility etc. were different ways of talking about the same thing-except their use and purpose were different for the purpose of their respective reports.
What I decided to do then was look at indicators. Indicators were variables that could be used to “indicate” if significant amounts of salt levels were present in the soil . They either were the cause of soil salinity or the result of it. For example, areas around agriculture and irrigation systems could be marked as a source because the flushing of the salts through excess irrigation water caused the salt to be spread out and dispersed into different areas. Basins would indicate a possible high salinity content because they stored the runoff from the mountains and some of the basins did not have outlets. Instead, as evaporation occurred, it led to higher soil salinity levels because soils became saturated or more concentrated. Plant communities like alkali meadows and salt bush scrubs could used because they grow with in certain soil salinity ranges.
Before I knew it I was attempting to make a soil salinity map of Owen’s Valley. Now as I reflect upon it I realize that there is still much more research to be done. The next step is to look at the geologic side of the topic and look at saline aquifers and what is happening underground. The idea of the “poetry of the site” comes to mind and I finally have become aware of why this is so important. The larger issue of soil salinity is not that it exists but that it cannot go away. It exists within Owen’s Valley because of natural processes and it only became an issue once human actions came into the historical picture. Soil salinity is part of Owen’s Valley just like how the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains mark the existence of it.