Water Closet for September 25, 2015
[pullquote]”The inundated areas called beaver meadows, with year round water and lots of light, are lush with life.”[/pullquote] Last Friday thirteen Middleton Council on Aging/Conservation Commission hikers were surprised by the amount of water still in Crooked Pond and contributing wetlands in Boxford. We had only received an inch of rain in the last four weeks at this often dry time of year. The still green leaves are pulling lots of water up to where it is lost to the sky by transpiration. Despite this we guessed the water table is still relatively high for September which accounts for the still lively greens. June with seven inches or so of rain, almost twice the average for that month and the above average amount received in early August may account for the dearth of browns usually so common this time of year on well drained soils..
Excuse all this weather talk; it is what Stream Teamers, some onetime farmers obsessed with water, do. We wish the pretty folks on TV would talk more about natural vegetation and gardens in their forecasts rather than so often giggling about threats of rain that might dampen outdoor parties.
After descending Bald Hill, the hikers decided to walk back on the north path along Crooked Pond. They’d hiked in from Middleton Road on the pond’s south side path shaded with high ledge and mature hemlocks. Upon return they came to a 15 year old beaver dam across a swale that comes into the pond from a large wetland to the northwest. The water level on both sides of the dam was not what they expected. Due to the drought they had anticipated walking on the usually beaver flooded road to and from the base of Bald Hill on dry land. Another larger beaver dam across the east end of Crooked Pond where it drains to a tributary of Fish Brook has kept the water relatively high. Parts of the road flooded much of the year are even in this dry spell now still ankle deep.
The largely unseen but obviously active beavers are doing a great service for wildlife and plants throughout the state. It was that way four centuries ago before the English and French newcomers paid good wampum, iron knives and pots, and later beads to the Indians for beaver pelts. The beavers were soon gone. This millennium thanks to protective, and we think enlightened laws, they are back in a big way. Next to humans beavers have been the most written about animals featured here in the Water Closet. The 17th century colonists sought out the low lands that beavers had inundated for ten thousand years. In them the soil was a meter or more thick of rich black muck. The English farmers dug drainage ditches and used the land mid to late summer. In the 20th century, without beavers or farmers, the areas become red maple swamps. The beavers now back have drowned the maples. The inundated areas called beaver meadows, with year round water and lots of light, are lush with life.
When they built the new Howe Manning School in Middleton about nine years ago we measured the thickness of organic soil of a meter thick black stratum exposed. It formed after the glacier left and plants and beavers moved in. An old Stream Teamer figured 0.1 mm on average had accumulated each year from sediment in runoff and dying plants in our area’s beaver meadows. (1000 mm/10,000 years = 1/10 mm/year) The upland topsoils nearby have on average only about 250 mm (1-ft.) that formed during the same period. Both upland and lowland topsoils were enriched and darkened by decomposing plant debris since the half-mile thick ice of the glacier melted.
The beavers are back. We Stream Teamers hope they will be left alone to expand and enrich our lower wet lands until the next continental glacier scrapes the soil away again, then melts and leaves life to start anew. With global warming that may be some time. In the meantime let all creatures enjoy the enriched habitats of beaver meadows protected by law from human development and alteration. The bottoms of thousands of acres of beaver impoundments in the Ipswich River Watershed behind water holding dams (about 40 in Middleton alone) are becoming slowly thicker with slowly decomposing plant debris and sediment as water is held back. Without trees they have become sunlit wildflower gardens. Before the beavers returned the river and its tributaries were much shallower this time of year. Water not held back by their dams flowed quickly out to sea.
Onetime chemist, now environmentalist Pope Francis, originator of the encyclical Laudato Si, would understand all this. We hope while here he visits wetlands to see what God’s creatures are doing, and that when he speaks to Congress he’ll cause blinders to be shed. The presidential candidates certainly don’t seem to be concerned about the environment.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2015 Central Watershed Actual
|1.0 as of 9/21**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Sept 21, 2015 Normal . . . 4.3 CFS Current Rate . . . 8.7 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug..
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Sept..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584