Saturday, July 16, 2016

Going with the river's flow #phenology

Last night we again went to the WaterShed in Osceola for dinner. We were hungry and wanted to see for ourselves just how high the river was. The National Park Service buildings on what used to be Osceola Landing island, during normal flows separated by a backwater, were half-submerged. The "island," viewed from the road and bridge, was entirely underwater. (If an island is entirely under water, is it still an island? Is that a question for philosophers, linguists, etymologists or river rats?)

The St. Croix, and other rivers, are up because areas a little North of us received 8 to 10 inches of rain at the beginning of the week just ended, comparable to what Duluth and vicinity received back in June of 2012. It took a few days for the water to flow from tributaries to main stem river. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a list of "Historic Mega-Rain Events in Minnesota." Almost twice as many have occurred since 1950 than between then and when Minnesota became a state. I don't know about you, but I think I see a very disturbing trend there. I can also find reasons for potential concerns about how the changes in rainfall intensity, frequency and seasonality(?) may affect aquatic, riparian and wetland flora and fauna. The rationale for these concerns is also supported by the fact that "runoff coefficients in some of the major river basins of Minnesota have increased significantly during the last 40 years."

high Spring flows in the St. Croix River
high Spring flows in the St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington
What we may have historically considered normal flow patterns, high to flooding in Spring with snow melt, low in Summer, and moderate in Autumn, don't seem to be matching very well what we've observed during the past several decades. All of us creatures who depend on rivers for different reasons had best engage in adapting to a "new normal." It's becoming increasingly clear that, even in (especially in?) Minnesota, we can take neither the quantity nor the quality of water for granted. How quickly can we change our attitudes and our thinking, and to what should we change them?

The River.

By Raymond Carver

I waded, deepening, into the dark water.
Evening, and the push
and swirl of the river as it closed
around my legs and held on.
Young grilse broke water.
Parr darted one way, smolt another.
Gravel turned under my boots as I edged out.
Watched by the furious eyes of king salmon.
Their immense heads turned slowly,
eyes burning with fury, as they hung
in the deep current.
They were there. I felt them there,
and my skin prickled. But
there was something else.
I braced with the wind on my neck.
Felt the hair rise
as something touched my boot.
Grew afraid at what I couldn't see.
Then of everything that filled my eyes—
that other shore heavy with branches,
the dark lip of the mountain range behind.
And this river that had suddenly
grown black and swift.
I drew breath and cast anyway.
Prayed nothing would strike.


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