Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Significance of our Ephemeral Little Brook

On each morning’s walk before hiking up the slopes of what we affectionately call Mt. Rockwood in Durham, North Carolina where we live, we cross repeatedly over a small unnamed brook.

It is smaller than a stream and way smaller than a creek, or as we said growing up in Idaho, “crick.”  Seasonal or storm-fed waterways such as this make up 60% of the stream miles in America.

There are no fish that I’ve seen but it is certainly home to choruses of bullfrogs.  Similar to 53% of the stream miles in the United States, it is classified as “small, intermittent or headwater,” and like almost 60% of the stream miles in America, it is seasonal and/or depends on groundwater seeps and storms.

They are the subject of efforts in Congress right now, where, at the behest of special interests I suppose such as mining companies, frackers and maybe even developers, who want to exempt these most seminal of waterways from the Clean Water Act.

They have also enlisted more than two dozen states controlled by legislatures holding the same ideology. Here is a link to the definitions to which they object.

The one over which we zigzag each morning comes off a nearby hillside and after flowing through Rockwood Park, it feeds into Third Fork Creek, near its genesis, one of 14 watersheds in Durham.

Much of this fragile brook was protected when a developer named Willie Carver deeded the parkland to the City of Durham in the 1940s; apparently even before this area a little more than a mile from Downtown had been incorporated.

It was a time when developers innately grasped the importance of green infrastructure.  Maybe it should be named “Willie Brook.”

After joining with several other creeks, it now helps fill the 14,000-acre Jordan Lake, a drinking water reservoir south of Durham that outlets as the Cape Fear River where waters from the little brook flow another 200 miles and then into the Atlantic Ocean.

In the March issue of Scientific American, two UCLA scientists give the example that “If Earth was a fully loaded Boeing 777, then its ocean would have the mass of a single passenger.  As strange as it may seem, proportionally our planet is some 100 times drier than old bone.”

And it all starts with these small, intermittent, often epemeral trickles that originate from springs or seeps of groundwater and then combine with storm run-off to create tiny brooks that build into streams and then creeks and rivers.

Even though it is impossible for the Clean Water Act to achieve its purpose without dealing with these intermittent waterways, some in Congress today are seeking to exclude them rather than permit regulations adjusted to address a technicality.

They apparently aren’t listening to 77% of Americans including 58% of Republicans who want even stricter environmental protections.

Nor are they listening to the 155,000 members of Trout Unlimited or for that matter to the $114 billion that 33.1 million anglers such as this generate to the economy.

Many people assume sportsmen and sportswomen such as these are conservative in ideology and half are.  But overall they are all conservationists by nature.

According to surveys, nearly 40% of those who fish and/or hunt believe we have a moral obligation to confront climate change.

When the NRA speaks out against gun control, it represents only 1-in-4 hunters and even then three-out-of-four NRA households overwhelmingly support various controls such as background checks on private gun sales.

Nearly a third support bans on high-capacity clips and assault-style weapons.

Watersheds are often called basins from which various waterways collect.

Durham is divided into two major watershed that fall from each side of the ridge that runs through Downtown, along the railroad tracks.  But each of these break down into several others.

To the north they break down into six or seven watersheds, two that are intercepted to fill two Durham drinking water reservoirs. The remainder, fill Falls Lake, created here so it could be tapped for drinking water down in Raleigh, to make that city viable.

The two rivers tapped for Durham drinking water, the Flat and Little, originate from small headwaters in adjacent southern Person County and north-central Orange County respectively.

In fact, the north and south forks combine to form the Flat River just a stone’s throw from where Willie Carver was born and just before the river becomes a class I-III whitewater river in Durham after storms.

Another, the Eno originates in a 10-acre farm pond in northwest Durham, which after collecting Little River and joining with Flat River and filling Falls Lake spill down to form the 248-mile Neuse River before it flows into Pamlico Sound.

Hyco and Mayo lakes up along the border with Virginia north of Durham are part of the Roanoke River watershed.  That river originates in brooks high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and flows down into North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound.

Headwaters are particularly vulnerable to land use changes which is why I’m guessing that special interests, and not just ideology, are behind the push to exempt them from the Clean Water Act.

Rivers are a continuum, a reference coined in a 1980 study that determined, “A river is more than a sum of its parts and that to understand what is happening at any point along the way, you must understand what is happening upstream and what is entering the watershed.”

In North Carolina, 66% of overall stream miles are in headwater streams and 38% are intermittent but because some major rivers and watersheds here are headwatered in Virginia, it is important to understand that state’s make up too.

In Virginia 62% of stream miles are headwater streams.  In the specific area where the Roanoke River begins its journey to Albemarle Sound in North Carolina, 58% of the streams are intermittent while 63% are headwaters.

Angler enthusiasts including many of the 1.5 million in North Carolina along with another 329,000 who visit have spent tens of millions of their own dollars to restore and protect these intermittent streams including 700,000 volunteer hours each year by Trout Unlimited members alone.

In many ways trout are the sentinels of clear water.  It is in these intermittent headwater brooks, streams and creeks that you find native trout such as the Yellowstone Cutthroat I marveled at as a boy growing up near the Henry’s Fork in Idaho’s the Yellowstone-Teton nook.

In North Carolina, it is the Brook trout that is native.

There are still 25 native trout species unique to regions of the country out of the 28 that once existed.  But according to the just-published State of the Trout report, thirteen occupy less than 25% of their historic habitat.

As noted by Chris Wood who is President and CEO of Trout Unlimited, “If you care about clean drinkable water, you should care about trout because they persist in only the highest quality water.”

They are also the “proverbial canary-in-the-coal mine for the effects of a changing climate.”

No comments: