Canal Boats, Locomotives, Interstate Highways. . .A River Runs Along It

Canal Boats, Locomotives, Interstate Highways. . .A River Runs Along It

Last fall, I rode my bike along the C&O towpath and the Great Alleghany Passage, following rivers for most of the journey.  The C&O traces the banks of the Potomac River from Georgetown in Washington D.C. to Cumberland, MD.  Travelling at the “speed of bike” is suitably slow to allow one to ponder the landscape, how it got to be the way it is today, and how transportation infrastructure has intersected with the river corridor over the years.

Little River Time Machine

I learned to love rivers and appreciate stormwater while living in a wikiup. A wickiup you say? A hut made of brushwood or covered with mats. . .any rude hut. That’s the internet definition. I built my wickiup along the banks of the Little River on land that my cousin owned in northern Durham County, NC. It consisted of a circle of saplings dug into the ground and bent to the middle to form a dome. The whole thing was covered with tarps, and I had a door and a window to look out on the river. My wickiup residency lasted a year and spanned all four seasons. This was 35 years ago, before that part of the County became more crowded with subdivisions as the Durham area expanded.

Way Down Yonder in a Very Large Pawpaw Patch

Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Pickin’ up paw-paws, puttin’ ‘em in her pockets,
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

In this traditional folk song, the pawpaw patch was “way down yonder.” It seems the patch is expanding, becoming the dominant shrub along floodplains of major river systems.

Nixon, My Birthday, and the Clean Water Act that Almost Never Was

The main thing I remember about Richard Nixon is that he ruined my 13th birthday. It was August 8, 1974. My parents took me to a restaurant. TV screens lined the walls, and all eyes were on Nixon delivering his resignation speech. The atmosphere was quiet, somber, decidedly un-birthday-like.  As a 13-year old boy, it was evident that my birthday celebration was being subsumed by more critical events.

Naughty Nitrogen

Nitrogen didn’t start out naughty. It comes from a good home: a blue planet that I hear is very nice. It constitutes 78 percent of our planet’s atmosphere and enjoys cosmic notoriety as the sixth most abundant element in the universe. Way to go number 7 (check your periodic table). Life wouldn’t be much good without it, and it finds its way into many products: food, fertilizer, explosives, refrigerants, metals, and jet and rocket propellants. If you’ve had the good fortune to witness the aurora borealis, you have Nitrogen to thank, at least in part, for the experience.  Oh. . .but Nitrogen has a naughty side.

Fallout Shelters, Sea Lever Rise, and Perceptions of Risk

Some coastal communities are grappling with fair weather flooding, when winds, tides, and higher seas conspire to push water overland and up through the storm drain system onto city streets.  I was at a stormwater forum recently where it was discussed whether streets could actually be designed to store water (e.g., have one lane flooded temporarily) as a sea level rise (SLR) adaptation strategy.

This discussion made me reflect on the complex topic of risk: how it is assessed, measured, communicated to the public, and, in many instances, normalized in the culture.

Vitamins & Minerals for Stormwater BMPs

Vitamins and minerals make us healthy and strong. We’d also like our stormwater practices to be healthy and strong, but they may need some over-the-counter supplements to boost their performance and vitality. Nobody wants a listless BMP in need of a mood adjustment.

Our profession has been continuously improving BMP materials and specifications as we learn lessons from research and practice. What additional innovations may be on the horizon? This article covers just a few types of materials that are slowly (but perhaps inevitably) entering the BMP landscape.

Big Infrastructure: The Long View or Incrementalism?

Big infrastructure projects tend to be contentious. Over the course of my career, the hottest potatoes have been the expansion of a drinking water reservoir, building a new highway near a drinking water source, a 765kv powerline through the mountains, and the current issue of a proposed natural gas pipeline.