The warm up that inspired so much hope in the coming of spring was followed by another deep freeze with single digit nights and two snow storms. I am frustrated with the weather taking one step towards warmer spring conditions and the explosion of life that results, and then two steps back towards the frozen doldrums of late winter. Cold water stabs the exposed parts of my face and makes me question this trip. I really was done with feeling that until next year I thought.
The winter cast shows no signs of yielding the stage to spring players. Caddis still hang on to rock weed and there are few fish here. Even the first subtle signs of spring in our rivers haven’t arrived: the change in composition, texture and color of the plant and algal life that clings to the rocks, becomes furry and orange right before the spring transition. It is still sparse black remnant sprigs of the summers growth of rock weed. I am frustrated with the apparent lack of progress towards warmer conditions, at a time when I am frustrated with the lack of progress toward cleaner, restored streams.
In North Carolina 70 miles of Dan River bottom are coated with toxic coal ash after a 35 million gallon leak. The Elk River in West Virginia received a 10,000 gallon spill of toxics used to clean impurities out of coal. Closer to home, the lower Brandywine River is unfit for human contact due to raw sewage that continues to overflow into the river from Wilmington’s outdated combined storm and sanitary sewer system. I had every intention of snorkeling this section of river below the last dam last weekend but decided to sample the river first. It showed positive for fecal coliforms at concentrations that exceed safe contact limits. Fresh water fish are the most threatened group of vertebrates on the planet. Twenty percent are predicted to go extinct in the next 30 years, and we just can’t get many migratory fish species to return in fishery sustaining numbers it seems.
One step forward and two back. Sometimes it feels like that. But I think more accurately its two forward one back. American shad are returning to the Patapsco, a highly urbanized mid Atlantic river. Dams are coming down nationally, and American Rivers reports 51 were removed last year alone. The leadership of Duke Energy and the North Carolina Governor are being investigated for criminal charges related to the Dan River tragedy. The EPA has blocked an Alaskan copper and gold mine that would significantly impact salmon if it were constructed. Pacific lamprey are returning to the Umatilla River in low but increasing numbers. Paddlefish have returned to Caddo Lake. There is growing interest in a restored Brandywine. Hope in the midst of despair. It’s supposed to be 40 degrees tomorrow.