As I drove from downtown Jamestown toward my home, I was well aware of the potential obstacle I was about to face. It had been raining all day and quite heavily for the past few hours. My chosen path was leading me towards a wetland near the Chadakoin River. When it pours for a long period of time that wetland, as expected, fills up with water. This is a completely normal situation in nature and means that the wetland is doing its job.
Since the surrounding land can only hold so much water, the water level often creeps closer to the edge of the road. On this particular day there was so much rain that the wetland temporarily reclaimed the road by flooding it with excess water. At this point, it became a guessing game to figure out the depth of the water, followed by a determination of whether or not it was safe to drive through.
In this particular location, the water was largely still and was only an inch or two deep. It rarely requires a driver to turn around and find another route. This is obviously not true everywhere. Fast-moving water flowing over a road can be dangerous and is often far deeper than it seems. Eventually though, every rainstorm ends. Each time I’m amazed at how quickly the water recedes back off this road, returning into the ditch and surrounding wetlands, especially since that is not the case everywhere.
Water levels change with the weather, climate and seasons. Water can increase in any given place either directly with rain, or it can flow from one place to another, sending it downstream to fill drier areas, especially when the warmer spring weather sends snowmelt flowing down through the watershed.
No matter where you are on Earth, water is constantly moving through our environment. There are places where it is sparse much of the year, and there are places where it accumulates in abundance. The flora and fauna of various ecosystems and biomes have adapted to handle the ebb and flow of water through changing tides, rains, droughts and hurricanes – at least to a certain extent.
If you think back to your grade school days, you may remember the water cycle. It is not always quite so neat and predictable, but as a general rule water falls from the sky as precipitation, collects on the ground in a number of ways, eventually evaporates back into the atmosphere and condenses into rain or snow once again. This means that whether water evaporates into the atmosphere or travels with gravity through a watershed on the ground, it is traveling from state to state and between wild areas across the country and the world. I wonder where the water from that rainstorm was before it fell and accumulated in the wetlands near me?
Throughout the water cycle, water is stored in reservoirs including lakes, in the ground, in oceans, snow and glaciers. Water can be for several days or, in the case of the ice caps, thousands of years.
However, water is also temporarily stored in living things. Picture that water cycle diagram again and you might remember something called transpiration. Plants take up water from the soil and release it from their leaves, keeping only some of the water that is pulled up from their roots and through their stem in order to produce the energy they need to survive. Animals, humans included, drink and store water. That too comes out as waste in a different location because eventually all animals have to go to the bathroom.
Audubon, much like this section of road by the Chadakoin, sits on a wetland. This means that sometimes hikers on the trails face the same obstacles as I did on that flooded patch of road. Sometimes trails are simply flooded when there is significant rain or snowmelt. This may be on a small section of trail or it may cover a wide swathe of trail. Wetlands are, by definition, an area of land that is covered by, or saturated with, water for part of the year. They are crucial habitats for animals, both permanent residents and migratory visitors, along with a plethora of plants. They are also a boundary and a buffer between large bodies of water, such as rivers or lakes and the surrounding land. They retain water as it flows through the system, slowing it down and reducing the erosion and flow of sediment, which can help protect not only habitat for plants and animals downstream, but also downstream towns and communities.
Water is an integral part of our lives and the lives of every living thing on the planet. It is something we are aware of every day, from the fact that we must drink it to survive to the ways rain, snow or even humidity affect the movements of our day. It can provide us with relief or act as a source of frustration. Even though water is sometimes just another obstacle in your day, it is still important to protect our water sources, not only for our community, but for other plants, animals and people further along the cycle.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.