The IOWA RIVER rose up to demand our full attention this past week. It would have been hard for anybody to not feel the influence of too much rain falling in very short periods of time. The soils within the watershed were already full of ground water. Anything new became part of instant accumulating torrents of surface runoff water. Everything in the path of rushing waters was in peril. It was a repeat of the age-old geologic process of natural events. We humans get concerned when these impacts threaten property, businesses, homes or even our very lives.
Last year we experienced a drought. This year is the direct opposite, so far, and it will go into the history books as one of the wettest months of May ever. What the rest of 2013 will bring in terms of weather events is unknown. We can and must do what we have always done: adapt, improvise and overcome.
It is easy for us to lull ourselves into thinking that a lazy, low flowing river will always behave, never get angry, never flood, or, if it did, the water would never get so high to affect me. Iowa is no different than anyplace else in the world when one looks at some of the places people have settled. Settlements turned into villages, that turned into small towns or large cities. People need water and living close to a river usually meant that obtaining water was assured.
T-R photo by Garry Brandenburg
Last Monday, May 27th, was when this image of a flood swollen Iowa River was made. It expressed itself in a huge way by filling almost all of the floodplain lands adjacent to the river. Heavy downpours of rain last weekend brought 6, 7 or even more inches of rain to some areas. The watershed is the total collection area for rains. But it all must flow downgrade where it collects in small streams, into larger streams and ultimately into the river itself. Wild turkeys on nests and young fawn deer in these forests took a big hit. Areas croplands were submerged. Soil losses are astronomical. Physical damages to roadway infrastructure is still being assessed.
While some cities were built in the uplands away from the river, out of harm's way, thousands of other centers of civilization have converted floodplain lands into great expanses for agriculture and urban centers. And many of the people who worked the land also lived close to their source of daily endeavors. Large commerce ports took shape over time with associated industries complementing the landscape. Many were on the shores of rivers.
I do not mean to belittle the tremendous losses people suffer as the result of heavy rains and flood events. Time lost, homes ruined and lives put into disarray are wounds that may never heal. And it will be a hard lesson to relearn that Mother Nature gets moody every once in a while. She deals the cards in the game of life, allows us to win fairly often, but then pulls out a trump card, secreted away to play whenever she wants to. Floods are one type of natural trump card.
In one of her postings as editor of IOWA GEOLOGY 1994, Jean Cutler Prior wrote an endpaper comment that I'll share with you. ( She is a retired state geologist who made her professional living studying and educating people about Iowa's geological history ).
" Among Iowa's geological deposits are sandstone beds recording the position of ancient river channels that flooded Iowa lowlands millions of years ago. Many large river valleys existing today are partially filled with sands and gravels left by surging flood waters released by glacial melting thousands of years ago. The energy of flooding rivers is responsible for shaping Iowa's valleys, the features of their bottomlands, and the distribution of their soils. While rivers and their floodplains have been around for a long time, people are relatively new to the landscape and tend to be rather shortsighted when it comes to sharing the Earth's surface with ongoing geologic processes.
"Iowans live with numerous rivers, and most of the time it is a peaceful coexistence. The flood of '93, however, held our anxious attention as many river reclaimed lands that were part of their geologic territory. Failing levees reminded us of the problems of trying to engineer a natural system to accommodate people and to the fact that in manipulating the landscape, humans themselves become geologic agents, influencing the course of natural processes in unattended ways. We need to rethink our relationship with rivers. We need to recognize that we often live too close to them, that they may need their own space, and that we need to expand our perceptions of them and broaden our understanding of how they function through time."
There will be future flood times. There will be future drought times. There will be lots of years of "average" weather conditions without the extremes of those noted above. And more than one state climatologist has stated that no year is "average." We tend to accumulate data points from history and then make claims of what we think average actually is. We get close but we are never spot on.
WILDLIFE suffers from weather events at all extremes on the scale. Blizzards and icy winds are part of the puzzle. Cold, wet spring weather hurts nesting birds of all sizes. Relentless heat in midsummer adds to the misery index as another puzzle element. Somehow through all these adversities, life hangs on tenuously to whatever it can muster in the survival game.
Later this summer, upland game count census surveys will take place. Numbers will reflect what happened due to past weather history. It is a pretty safe bet that upland game birds will be hard to come by. In spite of all the negative, hearing a cock pheasant crow in the distance will testify that he made it. A wild turkey with her brood of poults will testify that she made it. A doe with her twin fawns will testify that she made it. That will be positive news. Stay tuned.
One observer during the flood spotted an opossum in a tree surrounded by nearby flood waters. It was obviously a bit concerned about the lack of dry land to walk on. So can opossums swim? Yes, they can.
Think BIRD BATH BONANZA. Think about how to make a special bird bath using a large leaf as the mold. Wednesday, June 12 is the date. Two sessions will be held that day, the first at 1 p.m. and the second at 6:30 p.m., at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm, 2359 233rd St., Marshalltown. This is a fun hands-on activity to take a large hosta or rhubarb to help create a sand mold. A small amount of concrete is poured into the mold. When set, the inside impression will have the leaf imprint. Call 641-752-5490 to pre-register. The cost is $5 per person.
June 5, Wednesday, is another MCCB program tiein with a state DNR. It is called H20, which stands for Happy Healthy Outdoors. Participants get a chance to win outdoor gear by being active in state or county parks. The MCCB has set out three activities to engage people. The first is a hike to the observation tower at Grimes Farm at 7 p.m. June 5. The second is a kayak or canoe trek at Sand Lake at 7 p.m. June 8. The third is a bicycle ride on the Linn Creek Path at 7 p.m. July 17. In each situation, participants need to provide their own equipment. There is no charge or fee associated with H20 programs. Just get active and enjoy a state or county park near you. For details call 752-5490.
"If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done." Thomas Jefferson
Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.