Going Nature's Way
I know, spring is taking it’s time to arrive this year. It reminds me of many other springs, though we have forgotten those in the past few milder years. We get our hopes up with a rise of the red on the thermometer and the next morning there are snowflakes falling. But in truth, a gradual arrival is a much better thing, especially when we still have a lot of snow on the ground, both here and to the north of us, because it allows the melt to proceed slowly as it enters the streams and rivers.
After last summer’s freak flood, I think everyone in northern Pine County and Carlton County are sitting on pins and needles until the snow has all melted away. According to our friend, Ruth, the Kettle River is open and high. She is a bit anxious because their house was inundated last year. Spring floods during ice-out are not uncommon, but they also tend to be of lesser duration and depth. Any flood that damages private land and property is always disastrous, but most people who have chosen to live along these waterways understand the risks and have some experience with these annual spring flows. The rainstorm last June was unprecedented and we hope something we will not see again in our lifetimes.
All around us water is starting to move. No matter where you live, the snow and ice is going to turn into a liquid (some will evaporate into the dry air) and gravity will find a way to move it one way or another. Minnesota is a state overwhelmingly blessed with waterways — from the tiniest rivulet, to the Mississippi River and everything in between. In all (depending on which source you site) there are somewhere between 69,000 to over 92,000 miles of rivers and streams in the state.
I grew up in Minneapolis near the Minnehaha Creek (sometime we called it "the Crick," but that’s a term not commonly heard in Minnesota) and it was a tomboy’s haven of discovery and adventure. That small urban stream went directly into the big river. Now I live near the Willow River, which flows into the Kettle River, which flows into the St. Croix River, which flows into the Mississippi. This great river’s watershed (drainage area) covers 1,243,000 square miles, or about 40 percent of the total area of the lower 48 states. We are fortunate at this upper end to have a river that is relatively clean, especially after the 1972 Clean Water Act was instituted, but it still collects all manner of chemicals and pollutants running off the land and roadways.
Downriver, towns and cities (including Minneapolis) get some or all of their drinking water from the river, after extensive filtering and purification. It is what I drank for the first half of my life, but to be honest, I am very happy that today I drink groundwater from our own well. We humans have an innate ability to think “out of sight, out of mind” and what the people have to deal with as the river flows further and further south doesn’t really concern us — even though it should.
We have been on the most southern end of the Mississippi River the past few weeks and we have seen a very different river than the one we are familiar with at home. Here, it is chocolate brown and along the banks there are oil refineries and chemical plants. The land spreads out in either direction; ancient flood plains now hidden to us on the river by earthen banks known as levees. Soon we will leave this portion of the river and return to the rivers we love in our home state. In fact, this summer we plan to canoe the first 300 miles of the Mississippi from Itasca south. Based on the current conditions, we don’t believe shallow water will be a problem.
But back to those pesky snowfalls: Even with the continued cold weather, the ground that is exposed is beginning to thaw and that means it will soon begin to absorb all the moisture that is piled up in snow banks. We hope that it will help alleviate some of the drought conditions that have gripped our state for the past year. And this year, more than others, the old adage really will apply — April showers will bring May flowers.