I spent a lot of 2012 wishing for clear water. The more I creek snorkel, the more I realize how degraded the water in our rivers and streams has become because of the things we do on land. Most streams turn chocolaty brown after just a quarter of an inch of rain, and some stay too murky to snorkel for days, even weeks, after a good rain. I depend on clear water to snorkel and it just felt like this year was a year of muddy water, again. It wasn’t until I ran a trip with the National Aquarium that I realized where there is a will there is a way.
We had a line of typical summer afternoon thunderstorms move through our region the day before the trip. A lot of the rain hit land that we disturbed which resulted in soil clouding the runoff, and our streams. A lot of the water ran from hard surfaces like roads, driveways and rooftops which scoured more soil into our streams. The result was really murky water in the stream where I planned to take this group snorkeling. I decided we would try the Susquehanna first. The river usually experiences very slow flows in the summer, and the water gets very clear. We slipped into the river below Conowingo dam and watched a herd of Virginia river sails graze algae off rocks, watched a few sunnies defend their nests, and saw the shadows of a few smallmouth bass stay just barely in view. Conowingo started to generate power and released water. The warning lights went off, the increased flow kicked sediment into the water which reduced visibility, so we left. I still had a half a day of snorkeling to fill and was out of options, I thought. We went to Deer Creek, our usual go to, and as assumed earlier in the morning, it was brown with sediment. As the group ate lunch I scoped out a smaller tributary to the Susquehanna. It is a rocky, boulder strewn creek, barely 10 feet wide that tumbles down the hills of the lower Susquehanna valley. It’s not very deep, maybe a foot in a few holes, but the water ran clear. We explored this small tributary after lunch, and watched an entirely different aquatic community of blacknosed dace, common shiner and crayfish function.
As the year ended I found myself in the same situation. Every time my schedule opened up to allow a snorkeling trip, it rained, our rivers got muddy and I got frustrated. Then I checked some of the smaller steams, and they ran clear.
I got into the water, experienced the familiar but always awe inspiring force water exerts even in this small stream, and was transported into another realm. As I hovered in the creek, a darter shot from beneath me and let the current wrap its body around another rock. Caddisfly larvae grazed. I floated and watched until I started to shiver in the barely above freezing conditions. This water isn’t as big, and the larger fish and fish schools aren’t here, but there is amazing life to see in the smaller tributaries.
It’s easy for me to get pessimistic about the future of our aquatic environments when water clarity depends on a drought. But finding clear water to snorkel gives hope. In this season of making resolutions, I resolve to not let muddy water get in my way of exploring rivers and streams. We all need to resolve to take the actions necessary to protect our surface waters and all the amazing life it contains. Where there is a will there is a way.