Thursday, August 28, 2014

Watching the water rise

This summer has been unnaturally rain-free—that is if you prefer that all of the “normal” rainfall for a summer month occurs in just one day, allowing the remaining days to bright and cheery. That happened the night of August 12-13, when 1.33 inches fell in an 8-hour span—almost a half-inch above normal for the entire month. I happened to be sitting at a spot near Mill Creek in Kent, which has historically had a poor drainage system, particularly in the industrial park area. The Green River is allegedly always a threat of overflow, but Mill Creek is a more accurate indicator of drainage problems. The water level was only initially maybe two feet from the bottom, but began to rise perceptibly as soon as the showers turned to rain. In three hours the water level had risen four feet and was cresting the top edge of the creek’s normal winter level—and continued to rise. I had to leave then, since the rain had not abated (and would not for several more hours). 

Yet within eight hours after the rain had stopped, the water level had decreased nearly to the point it had been before. Apparently this is thanks to the Green River Natural Resources Area storm water project for runoff “retention” and wetlands “enhancement.” The drainage basin area is hoped to reduce storm flows by one-third per cubic feet per second, although it appears to me that since the creek was unable to contain the rapid rate of rainfall over a lengthy period of time,  apparently it takes “time” for the eventual “storage” area to collect and hold it. 

In any case, this observation reminded me of an incident of my youth. I was off on one of my excursions into the natural world one summer day when I was suddenly surrounded by menacing dark clouds overhead, which soon began unburdening themselves of their heavy load of moisture. I immediately took cover in the first serviceable shelter in sight: a storm pipe of about four feet in diameter, which lie crosswise beneath a section of train rail ten yards beyond the path I was traversing. The purpose of this arrangement was to detain and divert run-off water, and prevent the inundation of the tracks in the event of precisely this kind of atmospheric outburst.

I appreciated this fact more fully as I crouched uncomfortably within this pipe, and observed that as the torrential deluge increased in monstrous intensity, my own position was rendered more perilous by the very seconds. The rain fell at such relentless speed that the earth proved as porous as stone, and the resulting flood began to make menacing encroachments on both ends of the pipe. In the center of the pipe was a small rise of gravel and sand, which ought to have provided me an escape from the approaching tide; however, this expectation proved premature--for within a half-minute the water was already consuming the shoreline of this “island.”

The comprehension of this absurd situation rapidly out-distanced whatever recriminations I might entertain, and my mind engaged in belated confessions and many vows of intent to live a productive life if the All Mighty would be pleased to bring an end to my present predicament. My appeals became ever more intense and extravagant as my island narrowed in size before my widening eyeballs; though it was true that the water within the pipe was at the moment not more than a foot in depth, my fear and uncertainty was ample enough to move me to contemplate the effects of drowning. 

But nature  intervened and  the clouds rather perversely ceased their exertions: the tempest could not have lasted five minutes at most. In the meantime, I continued to stand in the ridiculous posture of a boiled prawn for a few more minutes, awaiting the order of the world to return to its former state--although my Canutian expectations did not persuade the tide to recede the more swiftly. I discarded the pretense of emerging from my ordeal in unblemished good order; removing my shoes and socks, I waded forth under a suddenly clear sky.

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