A fantastic (little) day
Posted by joeabbott on October 12, 2014
Yesterday was just great. Not great in the way that people normally crow about: doing big things, seeing famous sights, or spending time living large … it was a day of really small things that made me happy just spending time doodling about. I played some video games, had a great breakfast (brunch), spent time with Suzy, and learned some new things. Let’s talk about the new things I learned!
Earlier in the week, Suzy asked me if I’d like to go to a talk by an organization called Friends of Cedar River Watershed and hear (and see) the salmon migration. Having lived here about 25 years, I’m no stranger to the salmon migration but it’s always interesting to learn a bit more from an expert. And, one of the locations for the talks included a tour of a diversion dam on the Cedar River … that was the place for us!
Now, what I loved about this tour is that it was part history, part science, part ecology, and lots of other parts that help us to understand the world in which we live and to have fun doing it.
We had a minor trouble locating the park only in that it didn’t have the sort of address that’s easy to put into a GPS. But, that struggle was minor and we headed out under light rains the 20+ miles from our house to Landsburg Park … that’s where the Cedar River diversion dam is located. Like a salmon, we unerringly found the right place and by the time we pulled into a makeshift lot, the rain had stopped. We stepped across the road, queued at a pop-up shelter, and waited a few minutes of the last tour to head out.
I didn’t catch our tour guide’s name, but she was full of a tremendous amount of information and, like the best tour guides, had a deep understanding of the information and answered all manner of questions succinctly. On top of this, she’s a pro at walking backwards! For the majority of the stroll up and back, she faced our small group and managed to negotiate the gravel road with nary a glance over her shoulder.
The tour itself included information both about the salmon in the Cedar River system as well as the use of this river as a municipal water source for Seattle. It was the water source aspect that was most novel to me and had my attention.
Back in the late 1800s, fledgling Seattle had a double whammy of a big fire (that occurred at low tide … making the water source for fire suppression unavailable at the time of need) and a cholera outbreak caused from the fact that Seattle both dumped sewage into Lake Union as well as drew from that source for drinking water. Yup … eeeww!
This caused the city to take control of the water source and found the Cedar River to be just the ticket. They purchased all the land comprising the water source from the mountains to the point where the water is pulled off from the river … which is at the diversion dam at Landsburg Park. It’s then screen filtered for particulate debris and treated with chlorine, and fluoride. From there, the water goes by underground pipe some 10 miles to Lake Youngs before reaching the surface again and being held in this secluded (fenced off, barbwire, signs, camera surveillance with $10k fine and 90 days in jail if you’re caught) reservoir for a secondary treatment of the same as well as subject to UV treatment before heading out again (in pipes) to the greater Seattle area.
Only four other major US cities pull water like Seattle does (NYC, San Francisco, Boston, and Portland) … otherwise they use either well systems or have supplementary filtering (think “giant Brita filter”) before making it to customers. Thanks in part to program like reduced-flow shower heads, low-flow toilets, and businesses using grey-water systems, we now only consume about 40% of the water that we did back in the 1907s. Which means a growing city like Seattle can continue to use the Cedar River as our water source for the foreseeable future. You can read more about the Seattle water source out on the HistoryLink.org web site.
But it wasn’t all civil engineering chat … we got to learn about salmon, too!
Before the river was used as a water source, it was home to many types of salmon. Unfortunately, changes to the river system (the Black River which tied the Cedar to the Duwamish was removed and the Cedar River was rerouted directly into Lake Union) caused the pink salmon to no longer find the Cedar River to their liking. The Cedar River Council then established a sockeye run in the Cedar River … while they did introduce a non-native species, the sockeye could negotiate the open Lake Union waterway and contributed to the biomass levels the river ecosystem needed. They do, however, keep the sockeye from going farther up-river than the diversion dam as a way of avoiding unanticipated ecological problems.
At the diversion dam, we saw the fish ladders, holding ponds, separation tanks, and learned about their uses. It was simply fantastic and for being only 45 minutes, it was hard to beat for efficiency. Should you be out in the Seattle area in October and want to get in on this yourself, check out the Friends of the Cedar River Watershed web site and drop in for a tour!
Sorry for the pedantic tone of this post but I found all of the tour accessible and tremendously interesting. And I got a nice stroll by a river and in the trees with Suzy; hard to beat.
Thanks for dropping in!