goose during floodingshrunk

“The river is always changing, always flowing”- Pocohontas, Disney

Many people know that we live in what once was (and still is) the Great Black Swamp. But what does that mean for our flooded backyards, basements and overflowing flood plains this past June or the potentially cracked soil and droughts we expect in August? There are over 16,000 miles of ditches in the Great Black Swamp Area and many of them were dug by hand. A ditch’s sole job is to take the water away from the flat land faster than it can seep into the ground and carry it to Lake Erie. Here in Northwestern Ohio, that is an important part of our water cycle.

May was very dry, which was good for many farmers. But during June and into July, I often asked Mother Nature in a rather sarcastic tone, “Seriously? More rain? Really?” After all, there was a three week period in which it rained almost every day. It was the 8th wettest June on record. Some places received 2 months worth of rain overnight. I got very tired of the never ending rain and it concerned many people. Is Toledo going to be the next Atlantis? The answer is no. With so much rain, the rivers’ banks were breached, farm fields became swimming holes for sea gulls and the rivers stayed high for weeks. The rivers’ and ditches’ job is to take that water and move it methodically through a series of tributaries to Lake Erie. Flood plains allow water a place to slow down and drop sediment before emptying into Lake Erie, a very important process. The Maumee River has the largest drainage area of all the rivers in the Great Lakes region, covering about 8,316 square miles. This means that even if Defiance or Fort Wayne gets rain, the Maumee River will rise and we, everyone downstream, can experience high waters.

Rivers maintain the cycle of water, even in dry times. During the dry months, ditches and streams will dry up and seem dead. These effervescent streams serve a very important purpose for when it does rain hard, they channelize the water quickly. Plants and animals have been adapting to these fluctuating water levels for thousands of years. Lower water levels mean hunting is easier but water is warmer and slower. Dry ground forces plants to grow roots longer to reach the water. High water means fish can travel further upstream to mate and there is more access to vegetation on river banks.

Humans have a significant impact on river flow by controlling how fast water reaches the rivers. The less channelization, impervious pavement and fewer dams, the better our rivers can flow. The more wetlands, flood storage and rain gardens, the better. It is good to remember that flood waters can arrive quickly and carry anything from toys to boat docks and picnic tables downstream. And empty streams are perfectly natural and waiting to do their job. That is how Northwest Ohio’s rivers fit into the immense water cycle. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

By Lindsey Crego