Friday, April 30, 2010

Now streaming, from your local watershed...

Last weekend, as this coming one, weather predictions involve both rain and sun, and though we all tend to hope for perfect weather for our own plans, I do like for it to rain during springtime. It sounds silly to say that - it is going to rain, or not, no matter what I prefer - but I like to have it on the table that rainy days aren't all bad for outings. Sure, I'm not a fan of cold rains, and I'd rather not have a cookout in the rain. But except for when I've lost a rental car key in the ocean and I have to wait outside for a locksmith, most of the time getting wet doesn't bother me much.

So Sunday afternoon, we headed for a favorite local park, even though dark clouds were gathering to the southwest. We started walking in the stream, which was not at all pristine, but we could at least see the rocks to step on, and headed upstream until I heard thunder. Unfortunately I, being the grownup, had to make the very boring and responsible decision that we would turn around and head back toward the car.

As it turned out, we decided instead to head to the picnic shelter when the rain came, and huddled under the center of it, listening to and watching the storm. I wouldn't have minded being a bit warmer while we watched, but in any case it was a great storm to see from a dry spot. You probably can't see the raindrops in this photo, but let's just say that the fountain wasn't really wetter than anywhere else, for a good 30 minutes or so.

Afterward, the girls wanted to head right back to the stream. We'd seen a water snake we wanted to look for again, and I'd wanted to go past the place where we'd wisely turned around when it thundered. The stream, however, had other advice for us - I was immediately reminded of Bridge to Terabithia when I saw it, and once again, making the boring, grownup decision was left to me: no more walking in the stream. Reasons, that we couldn't see rocks to step on, just for one, were asked for by the intrepid Emily, but reason was pointless. I wasn't going in there, and the girls weren't either.

I'm sure all streams get muddy in a storm, no matter how healthy they are. And in our neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I'm grateful that the storm and sewage systems are separate, so when I see muddy water like this, I can reasonably assume that it really is, at least mostly, mud, rather than something far more foul to write about.
The bottom photo, taken very close to the top photo, is the same stream, minutes after the storm. This is a stream we couldn't play in, one which made me feel icky just thinking about touching, even though I'm not easily icked out. If only I felt really confident that mud was the only issue!

At a regional water authority meeting I attended a couple of months ago, I raised a bit of a debate by suggesting that our goal, in water treatment planning, should be that I should be able to take my kids to any stream in the area and let them play in it. And someone from the water authority tried to clarify, Did I mean except not during or after a storm? Her guess was not accurate. Of course I have no intention of letting either child get carried downstream and drowned. But yes, I meant it, and I explained that I might not be exactly normal that way, but I think during a rainstorm is a fine time to play in a stream, because you're already planning to get wet, so why not?

So last Sunday, I was just a bit bothered. Muddy water and wet clothes, fine - but, what else was in that water? I can judge, easily enough, the safety of the water for crossing, and if drowning is the fear, then once you walk away from the stream safely, you can take a sigh of relief. What creeps me out is the invisible problems, the pollution which, when we walk away from the swollen stream, is still with us.

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