Friday, July 8, 2011

Still Clear

I’ve driven over this little non-descript and forgotten stream hundreds of times on my way to and from work, and each time I peer over the low barricade on the short bridge to get a glimpse of the water, and every time it looks clear, even after heavy rains. But it’s a small creek and not very accessible due to fast traffic and overgrown banks so I never considered exploring it. I decided to snorkel this stream when I got frustrated with the seemingly perpetual murky condition of other streams in the area due to flashy downpours this early summer season. This stream never seemed to be affected, and I wondered if this was just an illusion, or if the water really was clearer.
I struggled through the climbing bittersweet, and poison ivy, to get to a pool that was out of sight from the road. I was paranoid about being confused with a body, which has happened before.
As soon as I stuck my face in it, I knew the water was clearer. Fish were abundant and diverse. Tessellated and johnny darters sent small puffs of sediment into the water with every jerky leap off the bottom. Chubs slowly came in to explore what I was, and nervously shot off into the distance. A common shiner in reddish hue breeding color danced before me as blue gill and pumpkin seeds put on aggressive displays to defend their nests. A small school of northern hog sucker worked the bottom and I’m pretty sure I saw a stoneroller. It was like swimming in an aquarium. While the water is clear, it isn’t without impact. Algae covers everything.
I checked out this tiny gem on the map, to try to determine why it stays clear when many of the other streams in the area turn brown after rains. It’s called Stony Creek, and its watershed is about 40% developed, mostly in new houses. So, this stream should be as muddy as the others, unless the storm water management requirements of newer construction, like storm water retention ponds, work. Maybe that is why Stony Creek is clear, but overfertilized. We have required technology to reduce heavy flows that come from impervious surfaces, which reduces scouring flows from reaching streams like this which results in clearer water. But we haven’t done too much yet to control nitrogen runoff, which makes this stringy algae that covers everything in this stream. Stony Creek gives me hope that maybe newer storm water management regulations do work in reducing sediment loads to our streams, which translates to healthier streams and clearer water to snorkel. And lots of fish to see.

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