Water Closet for October 31, 2014
In late spring, summer, and early fall a million-trillion leaves raise water in plants; some is used, most transpires out into the air. That water kept by the living cells is used in their metabolism and reproduction. Their plants grow as our lawns and gardens daily testify. With the shorter days and lower temperatures of autumn cell processes slow down. Leaves, as they lose their green chlorophyll, form an impervious, weak layer at the base of their stems and soon break off their twigs. Those on evergreens stick around for a couple years, but go dormant in the cold. Without active leaves water is no longer pulled up from the ground, and the ground water level again rises with the rains.
Last week we were blessed with over six-inches of water, desalinated at sea, that fell in just three days. This was twice the rainfall received from the sky in both August and September. Had this nor’easter occurred two months later there might now be more than two feet of snow upon the land. Most of the wind driven drops were slowed by leaves and then fell softly on the waiting ground. After the dry soil was saturated, excess water joined the water table. As leaves float down in air, water rises in the soil. Middleton Pond, Danvers’ reservoir, rose two feet. The Ipswich River’s elevation climbed almost three-feet during the storm as measured at the south Middleton gauge.
The ground water no longer drawn upon by plants will stay high until they turn active and green again the in spring. In the meantime the trees and bushes will sleep until the water surrounding their roots thaws and warms to over 40 degrees. Spring’s higher sun and longer days will warm the growing buds as another growing cycle starts anew. Ground water receiving only average amounts of monthly rain will decrease because of withdrawals by the plants. So water levels in the soil rise and fall, higher in winter and usually lower in the summer, fluctuations depending on the amount of precipitation. Now in California waters tables are way down as are the snow depths on the Sierra Nevada, the state’s high reservoir of ice.
Please forgive us for repeating what many of you have long known. It is the wonder of this past three hundred million years of natural cycles that never ceases to astound and at times delight. Is it any mystery that so many peoples over time have worshiped nature? How essential it is, now we understand, that we constantly remind ourselves, and also teach our young, how much our own species affects these cycles that preceded our tenure here three-hundred fold.
Let us leave time beyond our ken and return to the now fast flowing river. Its water movement has increased in just four days from fifteen to 700 hundred cubic feet per second at the Willowdale Dam in Ipswich.
We visited a couple substantial beaver dams in Middleton near crest last week and found them overridden by a foot or more of water heading to the sea from whence it came. Before the storm, recently fixed up dams were clearly seen. The 40 to 60 pound dam builders had at last count from a passing canoe built eight across the river in just Middleton’s squiggly eight miles alone. The dams’ heads ranged from one to five feet before the present high water. Our favorite analogy often used here before is to compare river and streams with dams to stairways. The distance between the dams being the treads, the dams the risers. Canal locks without gates might be a better way to view these steps where river surface treads average a mile wide and the risers one to five feet. The difference of course is the waters behind the dams act as great reservoirs, not stepping stones. Rapid water loss from rich habitats to the sea is largely prevented. Do you blame us here in the Closet for so often singing the praises of beavers? Can you imagine the gratitude of those animals and plants that thrive with lots more water even during droughts? You may first have to imagine other organisms capable of gratitude. Try, ‘tis easy, writers of children’s’ books do it all the time. As distant kin to the beavers, fellow mammals, it comes naturally. Before the beavers reappeared in the 1990s, the river and its tributaries had no perceptible flow in late summers and early falls of dry years. Now there are stairs, water impoundments, full or nearly so year-round.
Note: USGS South Middleton Gauge Website can be found “here“‘
To read flow rates at both the Willowdale Dam in Ipswich and the Middleton gauge go to the Ipswich River Water Shed Association site and scroll to River Conditions. Measurements from the gauges are plotted on graphs every 3 hours. You may thus watch the river’s flow from your computer. To see beaver dams across the river in Middleton paddle downriver from North Reading to Topsfield or drive to Peabody Street and hike down river a quarter mile. One that can be seen without walking is at Logbridge Road Park. To see several in two miles, hike up or down the railway bed next to Boston Brook. We’ve kept a map of dams in Middleton since 1997. About forty known are presently marked. You don’t have to travel to Middleton; all our towns have them from 10 to 400 feet long and 1 to 7 foot high. They are easy to find, just follow the river or major streams. Contact the Middleton Stream if you have questions.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||July||Aug||Sept||Oct|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.89||3.37||3.77||4.40|
|2014 Central Watershed Actual||7.26||2.20||2.58||9.93 as of 10/28**|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate(S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Oct. 28, 2014 Normal . . . 20 CFS Current Rate . . . Unavailable
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept.
**Middleton Stream Team and Danvers Water Filtration Plant are source of actual precipitation data for Oct.
Normalsdata is from the National Climatic Data Center.