Water Closet for September 4, 2015
[pullquote]”The delta system south of New Orleans greatly damaged by dredged navigation channels and oil-gas line canals didn’t buffer Katrina as it had during so many hurricanes before.” [/pullquote]Shaded and colored maps to show elevation and vegetation of our country “sea to shining sea” are impressive. A large one much used is in the Water Closet’s treasured National Geographic Atlas. Two widely-spaced north-south ranges of mountains drain water via many mighty rivers to the Mississippi and then on to the Gulf. Sand, silt, and clay carried by the streams and rivers, a century ago much more than now, enriched the floodplains and formed the ever changing Mississippi deltas extending out into the Gulf. Ambitious men came along in the last century and levied much of the lower river and damned many of the tributaries for flood control. Sediments feeding floodplains and deltas were estimated to have been decreased by half. The marvelous natural system was broken by the marvelous, and in the long run, unwise systems of man. We have been reminded of this in the past couple weeks by nonstop TV tenth anniversary remembrances of Katrina. The delta system south of New Orleans greatly damaged by dredged navigation channels and oil-gas line canals didn’t buffer Katrina as it had during so many hurricanes before. Katrina’s great surge of warm water rolled on in largely unabated. The channels cut were like funnels. Barrier islands, bayous, forests, swamps, sand bars, grasslands and mudflats making up the lobes of the deltas are riddled with pipeline and ship channels.
The world watched the results as videoed from media helicopters.
Although a far different system, imagine the effects if barrier beaches Crane, Plum Island, Salisbury and Hampton were breached by northeasters. The vast, soft salt marshes they protect would be eroded away leaving parts of the mainland towns unprotected. The Mississippi Delta, once natural dense vegetation including patches of large trees, was a much, much wider buffer for New Orleans. No thanks to drilling for gas and oil, levees, and navigation thousands of square miles of wetlands are gone or have been drastically altered. The greatest long term loss may be the harm done to wildlife and fisheries. The delta is an important stop-off in the great migration flyway between North and South America. The cities and towns on the Louisiana coast support one of the world’s largest fisheries.
Repeatedly we see satellites’ maps and photos on TV of this almost 30,000 square miles of wetland and surrounding Gulf waters with oil and gas wells and pipe lines marked in red. We hear there are over 4000 offshore wells off Louisiana. The miles of pipes from them total about 10,000 miles, many abandoned. All this careless industry in a place called by world famous naturalist Edward O. Wilson from the deep south one of the most diverse habitats on earth. From Rita and Katrina alone it is estimated that thousands acres of precious wetlands were lost and are now shallow sea.
In one recent TV report someone said, “No one intended to destroy the functions of the deltas”. It is easy to criticize after the fact but we don’t think the many thousands of someones should be left so easily off the hook. For over half a century it has been known what starving the delta of sediments and the direct destruction of the wetlands were doing. Big agriculture, big oil and gas, and shipping industries were in the saddles and ran the show through the politicians of river basin states and Washington. Fishermen, farmers, delta residents, hunters, ornithologists, geologists, and naturalists with little power or money weren’t much listened to. BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and Katrina woke folks up a little. Perhaps too little, the “Drill Baby Drill folks” are still in control from the North Slope of Alaska to the Gulf.
As the Mississippi Delta diminishes, the hurricanes feeding on warm water while crossing the Atlantic, do not. Danny and Erika petered out this late summer before reaching the mainland, but more are coming. Erika left 20 dead in Dominica. Wouldn’t it be nice if all along the Gulf coast these whirling-water-filled-furies encountered natural barriers as of old to calm them down? In the Water Closet we guess that if the expenses for a year of our wars were rechanneled it would go a long way toward restoration. There are some good schemes as to how this might be done if only folks in charge, both industrialists and governmental leaders, would look beyond the next elections and bottom lines.
We end with a poem published here after deadly Jeanne in the summer before Katrina.
Restless air off Africa
Follows in Columbo’s wake
Plucking water as it goes
In Caribbean gathers more.
Now an angry swirl dubbed Jeanne,
Who slams her waving skirts ashore.
Thousands in poor Haiti die.
Rage half spent she slows
And weeps away the rest on north
Here, thousands of leagues from start
Her tears fall on my cheeks.
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
|0.0 as of 9/1**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Sept 1, 2015 Normal . . . 3.4 CFS Current Rate . . . 2.6 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru July.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Aug and 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