Yesterday during my attempt at a three-mile run, I met up with flooding at an intersection where a road managed by a local township connects with streets within the jurisdiction of our village. The roads were completely underwater. Flooding from nearby farm fields poured over suburban lawns. And the rain kept coming.
It was all headed downhill toward the street drains, but those were under two feet of water and sucking hard to keep up. It was a classic case of lack of “downstream” consideration in which everyone shucking water off their land seemed to suffer from lack of concern for where it all might end up.
Every gutter in this world has a purpose, but there is a need to coordinate those purposes or someone down the hill gets to pay the price.
A resident of the neighborhood where the flooding rushed toward homes told me that before he’d moved in, the people living on his cul de sac had once been able to kayak around the circle. It was approaching that level yesterday. It was a Noah and the Ark moment. These patterns are repeating themselves.
Watered down excuses
I turned around and went home because my path at that intersection was blocked in all three directions. Actually I was glad to ditch the run because my body was pretty tired from riding 55 miles the day before in enormously windy conditions. Plus my watch was dead for lack of a charge and it all seemed to be telling me to bag it for the day.
Back home I walked behind our property and was impressed with the water levels rising out of the wetland. There’s a beauty to prodigious amounts of water as long as it’s not in your basement.
The first year we moved into this home there was perhaps a week or so during the seasonal cycle when flooding took over the bike path behind our house. Now that condition lasts all year long, every year.
People walking, riding or running on that path are now forced tocut across the grassy expanse of quasi-Park District property outside our lot. But right now, that entire floodplain is covered in water as well.
But here’s the funny part. That’s how the floodplain management is actually supposed to work. The engineers who planned the landscaping around our neighborhood built a series of culverts that transfer water from one type of wetland to another. It works in a stairstep fashion. There’s a big pond to the east. That’s all open water and probably ten or fifteen feet deep in the middle.
But when heavy rains come, that pond has a culvert that dumps overflow to the west into the swamp zone. That’s where most of the wildlife lives. We have wood ducks and blue-winged teal, sora and Virginia rail. An osprey even visited our cottonwood trees a few weeks ago, and there are great blue herons, great egrets, green herons and killdeer hanging out every day in search of a meal.
We love the wetland, and the bike trail was installed to give people a nice view of the water beyond the rim of willows and cottonwoods that line the edges. The trail bends its way around this swamp and wetland zone. It’s at water level however, and cyclists and runners largely now come to a halt because the path is covered with water all year. Some elect to ride through, but most either turn around or cut across the often mucky ground that borders our property.
From what we can ascertain, that bike path was installed without much consideration for the overall floodplain engineering. It was planned for aesthetics but not practicality.
100 year rains
I well recall the rains we received in this area back in 1996. Entire neighborhoods were immersed. The basement of the home I owned back then was filled with water. Some friends found their basement two feet deep in water. Their television was floating in the middle of the room.
Sometimes we hear about “100-year rains” and these are apparently the calculations used by hydrologists to predict what water levels will do depending on how many inches of rain fall in a given timeframe.
But those calculations are probably based on what one might call “normal” data and weather records from the last one-hundred years or so.
Yet in that one-hundred years, the human race has completely changed the climactic dynamics. Industrial pollution and other sources have altered the 100-year perspective in almost precisely that amount of time.
Now we’re seeing the effects of climate change in rising temperatures. Warmer global temperatures are melting ice caps and carving chunks off Greenland and Antarctica.
It might be wise to revise those ‘100-year’ predictions and consider what’s really taking place on our planet before it’s too late.
Landscape and topography
But here’s the problem. The human race tends to be so focused on the “way things are” we seldom seem to take into account the ways things once were, or could be in the future as climate changes. We have clear evidence from the fossil and geological record here in North America that our continent was once divided into thirds by giant seas. These teemed with life and the deep layers of limestone on which we live our lives, plant our crops and run or ride across hill and dale are the product of millions of years of forces far beyond human control.
Yet now we’ve become so populous and impactful our waste products have changed the composition of the atmosphere on which all life depends. CO2 emissions from a spectrum of human activities are holding warmth from the sun inside our sphere. Honestly we could see some sort of return to that former continental flooding if sea levels rise as predicted due to climate change.
We are seeing more intense weather events. Sometimes these changes seem counterintuitive, such as the polar vortex of cold air pouring down from northern climes. How could global warming cause colder temperatures? It’s cause and effect, you see. When ocean currents warm and shift, the atmosphere is affected as well. Air masses get pushed around.
We’ve long known that El Nina and El Nino changes have massive impacts on climate systems. I can’t help believe that the water lapping at the slope in our backyard is not somehow related to changes at the global scale as well.
I’ve lived sixty-two years on this earth. I’ve watched massive changes in wildlife populations and behavior. Some of those are good, especially when human beings take measures to restore native habitats. The wild things come back. The same thing happened with reductions in certain pesticides fifty years ago. Bald eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons and water birds all made a comeback.
The error of our ways
So it’s not impossible for us to correct the error of our ways. Some speculate that pandemics related to viruses around the world may be more common due to climate change. Even here in North America, back when people did not understand the relationship between mosquitoes and disease––and wetlands were far more common the landscape––malaria was a problem for many.
What we need to realize is that these changes are a constant part of life on earth. Evolution describes them and our science and medicine respond to them. But we may also need to consider how we “engineer” everything from our climate to the land and water upon which we depend for a living.
We’re long overdue for an overflow of consideration on that topic. The climate change deniers of this world are finding out the hard way that whether it is a flood of water or a flood of disease, denying the problem is not the way to fix it.