Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Floodplain

If one picture is worth a thousand words, then the fotos above are worth thousands and I have to wonder what words come to the minds of the general population when viewing the flooded areas around Ames? These fotos were taken early Wednesday morning after I received an automated call around 4:30 AM. This alert emanated from the city offices warning the residents of the neighborhoods throughout Ames of dangerously rising waters in both Squaw Creek and the Skunk River, each cutting their swath through opposite sides of our fair city.

I brewed my coffee, then headed out with the dog to see what I could see. The recorded message referred to this flood episode as record-breaking, comparing it to The Flood of 1993. Luckily, I live on the upland overlooking the river and its floodplain on the west side of town, so my feet were dry when I took in the view. The water was high, yes, but what caught my attention was the traffic that was circling, trying to find safe passage into and out of town given the rising floodwaters. This was a busy place, my neighborhood, for so early, early in the morning. I noticed a few cars which turned onto the street that headed downhill into the rising water. These folks wanted a closer look at the 'natural' event taking place out the windshield of their vehicle.

On my walk back to the house, I decided to do a quick check of the sump pump...just to make sure it was doing its job. I could hear water falling into the sump pit, then the quiet hum of the motor as it flushed the contents of the barrel into the stormwater line. I knew that where this water was going was only adding to the torrent of muddy floodwater I had already witnessed sweeping across the landscape at the bottom of hill.

Around 11, I ventured back to the flooded parking lot/athletic complex to check on the water level. The scene I took in stopped me in my tracks. It wasn't the water so much as it was all the vehicles parked along the street and the people activity on the hill. It was a curious sight. It reminded me of the cardinal red and gold tailgating that happens most Saturdays during football season. Only it was happening around a glistening body of water dotted with floating Ky-Bo's and Iowa State tent tops billowing in the rush of water.

This is what I wondered. Do any of these people realize the forces of water? Do they comprehend what these floodwaters are all about? Do they understand what it is that is causing this very natural act, this disturbance, that turns so destructive to our efforts in the planning and building of our communities? This day seemed to be entertainment for the masses. Everyone held cell phone and digital cameras above their heads trying to capture the expansive wet landscape in this very soggy moment in Ames history. But really, were they comprehending that how we chose to build and live on the land is causing this sort of event that, along the way, wastes our precious financial resources.

Water knows where it wants to be and it goes there. Pretty straight forward. Seemingly simple. We can try to dominate with more fill, higher levees, stronger dams, but we should really take a longer look at that rush of water spilling over parking lots, thru commercial buildings, or into our basements. It would help us understand that when we build in the floodplain with the idea that we can 'catch and convey' our stormwater worries away, we are asking for trouble. When we pave over our soils to accommodate our vehicles, we are setting up a system whereby we shunt torrents of water that carry pollutants, sediment, and garbage into our creeks and streams. Nothing can stop the force of water and yet we continue to ignore what Mother Nature is showing us. If fact, we make it easy for this liquid force of nature the tear down and ruin what we try to build.

Feast or famine. Most of the time these waterways barely carry any water. But when an unprecedented amount of rain falls in one specific area which happens to be the watersheds for two usually lazy rivers in Ames, all hell breaks loose. Water knows where it wants to be and it does go there.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

from Another Gardener's Bed-Book, 1933

August 8th...Ancient Nudism. It is all very modern to claim that sun-bathing is a product of our own era, yet the ancient poets were always having their lady loves dance diaphanously across the mead and maidens go out at dawn (I suspect in their night-gowns, as one of our guests did once, to the shocked surprise of a dignified father-in-law) to gather fresh dew for a cosmetic. The modern school of nudist poetry not yet having risen, permit me to quote these two lines of intimate loveliness written by Michael Drayton in the 16th century:

A world to see, yet how he joyed to heare
The dainty grasse make musicke with her feete.