Exploring lost rivers, buried creeks & disappeared streams. Connecting historic ecology + the modern metropolis.
What’s in a name? Why does language matter? I asked this question previously in the post “Language as the Thread“, and it continually emerges and weaves through the study of hidden hydrology. The names of streams and places, which are shaped by geography and culture, enliven our discovery of the old and the new. I admit to a love of language, but had not specifically focused on toponyms to the degree I have until reading and following the fantastic Robert Macfarlane, who challenges us to expand these connections by “…collecting unusual words for landscapes and natural phenomena” and celebrating them. He calls the accumulation the word hoard. and can be best accessed in his 2016 book Landmarks.
For water, like other phenomena, there are many encyclopedias for terms and usage both regional and global to encompass the range of toponymic variations. And people also like making maps of these as well. The map that sparked this post I saw on Twiiter that was published in 2011 by Derek Watkins – “Mapping Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous United States” which “…illustrates the range of cultural and environmental factors that affect how we label and interact with the world.” [click to expand and zoom on the map below]
Even though I moved around a bit as a kid, i’m a straight stream or creek person, with an occasional Brook or Fork. The graphics break down multiple regional variants:
“Lime green bayous follow historical French settlement patterns along the Gulf Coast and up Louisiana streams. The distribution of the Dutch-derived term kill (dark blue) in New York echoes the colonial settlement of “New Netherland” (as well as furnishing half of a specific toponym to the Catskill Mountains). Similarly, the spanish-derived terms rio, arroyo, and cañada (orange hues) trace the early advances of conquistadors into present-day northern New Mexico, an area that still retains some unique cultural traits. Washes in the southwest reflect the intermittent rainfall of the region, while streams named swamps (desaturated green) along the Atlantic seaboard highlight where the coastal plain meets the Appalachian Piedmont at the fall line.”
The focus on non-traditional toponyms for streams is great, although myself, like many others, mentioned “Where are Creeks, or Streams, or …” due to the absence of these being visible on the map. A bit of digging shows that and he mentions that “This map taps into the place names contained in the USGS National Hydrography Dataset to show how the generic names of streams vary across the lower 48. Creeks and rivers are symbolized in gray due to their ubiquity (although the etymology behind the American use of creek is interesting), while bright colors symbolize other popular toponyms.” Perhaps its just gray on black, but I think showing in one more visible color (a neutral light blue) and keying these would help paint a picture of all streams and then highlight the stranger ones. Minor graphic critique aside, it’s a cool exploration.
He adds that he: extracted the major rivers and streams in Great Britain from the Ordnance Survey’s Strategi dataset and coloured them according to whether they are a “river”, “canal” (not sure if this really counts in terms of naming), “water”, “afon” (Welsh for river) and “brook”. You can see that a clear geography exists. I was not surprised by all the “afons” being in Wales but I was surprised to see so many “waters” in Scotland.”
There are many variations I’m sure just from perusing some I wonder about the term Beck, which comes up in a lot of literature in the UK and the studies of some of the lost rivers I’ve read. According to the quick etymology it is used in Northern England, derived from “Old Norse bekkr, related to Dutch beek and German Bach . Used as the common term for a brook in the northern areas of England, beck often refers, in literature, to a brook with a stony bed or following a rugged course, typical of such areas.”
There’s another link to some simple toponymic maps on by Paul Fly in a set GNIS maps via flickr as well – where these are mapped with less at once so you see the comparative differences, along with some other iterations like Lake/Pond, and Branch/Run/Brook and a plethora of
Some additional links of interest from Watkins post include the book Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States by George R. Stewart which also has a great essay on Slate here. Additionally he mentions The Cultural Geography of the United States by Wilbur Zelinksky and the writings of Robert Cooper West.
More on toponyms and the application here in the Pacific Northwest in relation to hidden hydrology, and a wealth of additional discussions more generally on language, culture, and water to come.
In my journeys investigating hidden hydrology I stumble upon some interesting side projects that fit nicely as a complement to the idea of buried creeks and lost rivers. While the main thrust of the project is on these lost rivers, the parallel of the unseen in terms of infrastructure systems led me to the work of photographer Stanley Greenberg. A short interview as part of Urban Omnibus series Unseen Machine entitled Stanley Greenberg: City as Organism, Only Some of it Visible piqued my interest.
The interview, which is from 2010, discusses some origins of Greenberg getting into photography, as well as the way of looking at the city in new ways.
“I think the city is a huge organism, only some of it visible, and we inhabit it, change it, get changed by it. But there is so much of it that I don’t know. I have mental maps of some neighborhoods; others I still need to explore. There are New Yorkers who never leave their home neighborhood. I try to get out and see as much as I can; walking, on my bicycle, in the subway. And I am always reading about the city, present and past. I suppose I treat it more like a tourist would, always looking for new things and hidden old things. I’ve learned to look for different kinds of subtle landmarks; where are the water tunnel shafts, for example, and how they affect a particular landscape. Or how different eras are marked by manhole covers, lampposts, width of the streets, other urban artifacts. I’m a birder, so I’ve trained myself to look at details. But it’s the same with the city; you always need to be looking. I think it’s important not to take it for granted. That’s what I try to do with my pictures; convince you that it’s worth your time to look at the city, maybe in a way you hadn’t before.”
The concepts of infrastructure also is juxtaposed with discussions of access and security of these system.
Greenberg mentions that he had good access at the time, but that the ideas have changed: “I’m saddened that so many of the places I photographed for the first two books have been removed from the public’s eye. I still think that when there’s more public access, places are safer, for a number of reasons. Neighborhoods, for example, are always safer when more people are outside and active. You can’t possibly police all sensitive locations, and you have to have the public take ownership of its property seriously. I haven’t trespassed (much) to get pictures, since my equipment doesn’t allow for it — and in most of my projects, I haven’t needed to. But I support the idea that sometimes the public’s right to know trumps rules of access.”
There I also learned of the books Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City and Waterworks: A Photographic Journey through New York’s Hidden Water System, both of which seemed to fit the theme nicely.
For you BLDGBLOG fans, Geoff did a profile in 2006 here worth checking out, and a bit more of Greenberg’s work is available on his website, for instance, some shots in the ‘Infrastructure’ category below:
The photographs are, as you can see, typically black and white, and tend to focus on the architectonic, which is perhaps more about the subject than the photography itself. One interesting photo is from Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, taken in 1993 before the eventual design competition and ongoing multi-phase redevelopment into Fresh Kills Park
Greenberg mentions: “I photographed Fresh Kills landfill for the book (though the pictures were not included) and then again as a commission just before the design competition started. Some places are transformed while using their history in an interesting (and often more subtle) way. Others become simulacra of what was there before, and are much weaker because of it.”
There’s also some interesting recent work on Button Agreement (a project that includes walks of Manhattan, water tunnels in NYC, and explorations of water and cities) which incorporates some earlier work on Water Log, which looks at “Water infrastructure: water supply, aqueducts, dams and dam removals, canals, locks, and other related structures and sites”
Again, the content is diverse, but includes some color photography, and delves a bit into . The photo below is from work on the “Lake Superior, Part 1″ and is captioned: “Storm Sewer (and trout stream, Duluth, Minnesota” connecting squarely to hidden hydrology.
The more subtle, comes in the form of walks (with some simple hand-sketched route maps included) following infrastructure systems, such as “City Water Tunnel No. 3 Ventilation Towers”, which has multiple shots of towers woven through the city, highlighting the subterranean path by pointing out features that would probably go unnoticed by the average urban dweller.
And closer to my neck of the woods, the photographs of the Elwha Dam removal on the Olympic Peninsula, “Elwha River, 2010-2014″ are great, showing some evolving imagery of areas as the dams were decommissioned.
Lots more exploration here, but the concept of hidden hydrology has orbits that transect the infrastructural is embodied in Greenberg’s photography. By looking deeper at cities and the subsurface elements, we can provide a beautiful connection (often even just the mundane becoming visible) to these lost, buried, hidden, yet still vital systems.
Another city doing some great work around Hidden Hydrology is Toronto. Featured in the Lost Rivers documentary, the city boasts as range of resources and groups worth some exploration. A plethora of media fuels the fascination, with numerical and witty titles, including “5 lost rivers that run under Toronto“(blogTO), “5 subtle signs of lost rivers in Toronto” (Spacing Toronto), “Toronto’s ‘lost rivers’ reflect how we’ve reshaped nature“, and “Toronto’s Hidden Rivers” (Toronto Star), “Last seen heading for the lake” (The Globe & Mail), In particular the author Shawn Micallef a colunmist from the Toronto Star that has looked at disappeared creeks, and lost creeks. The more general discuss “and “What the Toronto Waterfront used to look like” and connect to the online archive of Toronto Historic Maps and other resources. The following explores some of this in more depth.
Hidden Hydrology Resources & Groups
Lost River Walks is a long-standing resource in Toronto, “The objective of Lost River Walks is to encourage understanding of the city as a part of nature rather than apart from it, and to appreciate and cherish our heritage. Lost River Walks aims to create an appreciation of the city’s intimate connection to its water systems by tracing the courses of forgotten streams, by learning about our natural and built heritage and by sharing this information with others.” They include a number of Stream Pages, accessible through the Site Map, which provides history of individual streams, in this case, The Market Streams, which highlights a series of streams and provides some overlay mapping of the current sewer network.
The engagement is a key part of the group, as the name implies, through a series of guided walks, which highlight lost rivers and creeks in the context of the urban fabric, as well as focusing on topics like water quality. There are also self-guided tours ‘Thirsty City Walks‘, provides opportunities to follow the former and current routes of waterways. A map below shows the route of the walk with key points and audio commentary as one follows the route.
A great bonus article I found on the Geohistory-Géohistoire Canada Project, authored by John Wilson entitled “The Lost Rivers Project: The Case of Holly Brook“. This post outlines some of the process, in particular the need for ground truthing, as he mentions, “I have spent many hours travelling the city’s streets and laneways looking for signs of lost rivers and ravines. My street-level observation of Holly Brook’s course was simple – whatever the City Engineers may have drawn on 1890s maps, water doesn’t flow uphill!” Lots of great stuff at Lost River Walks, so check out the website, and follow them on Twitter @LostRiversTO and also via founder and lost rivers force Helen Mills at her account @HMMLostRivers
Vanishing Point is the brainchild of Michael Cook, a resource of which “…emerged from a decade of underground research and photographic practice”. The varied topics include topics of Daylighting Creeks, Parks and Stormwater Spectacles, Lost River Activism, and Celebrating Infrastructure Projects . Cook continues, describing the work as ” a form of citizen geography, it has informed community groups, academic projects, and the official work of planners, landscape architects, engineers and archaeologists.” This sort of comprehensive resource adds to the work of Lost River Walks with information and a wealth of interesting photography. Lots to check out here, and also worth following Michael on Twitter @waterunder
The Don River Valley Historical Mapping Project is (was) a robust exploration of the Don River, “This project documents historical changes in the landscape of the Don River Valley. Drawing from the wide range of geographical information available for the Don River watershed (and the Lower Don in particular), including historical maps, geological maps, fire insurance plans, planning documents, and city directories, the project uses Geographic Information Systems software to place, compile, synthesize and interpret this information and make it more accessible as geospatial data and maps.” It’s hard to tell if it’s still active or just the website hasn’t been updated, but most info stops in 2010, but still some great geospatial data, resources, maps, and other information related to the Don and larger Toronto hydrology.
A new? interactive map of the project provides spatial information to complement the work to date, and offers a way to interact with the data in new ways.
Another interesting take on how to use different methods for displaying the subject matter comes from Alex Meyers project “Uncovering the Creek“, a timeline that provides a “…study of the city’s changing landscape through a close examination of Trinity-Bellwoods Park and the Crawford Street bridges. This project is a virtual excavation of a hidden Toronto landmark that has been almost erased by the process of city building.” A nice method of using a linear timeline with links to graphic resources and maps.
The group Human River was featured in the Lost Rivers documentary, and was featured doing an interactive walk, “during the annual story telling parade, participants wear blue becoming a human river and bringing the Garrison Creek back to life”. It’s a cool way to use event to raise awareness plus looks like a lot of fun. It also looks like their website is both abandoned and hacked with lots of spamming links – so i grabbed this image quickly and then ran. Not sure the current status.
Also mentioned in the Lost Rivers documentary, the Garrison Creek Demonstration Project by Brown & Storey Architects (from 1996!) envisions the use of the Garrison Creek zones for green infrastructure, positing that “… the existing natural watersheds, like the Garrison, can be used as sites for stormwater management pond systems. Not only can these connected pond systems serve to collect, treat and re-use stormwater locally, they can also act as a catalyst in the creation of a series of connected open spaces knitting both an urban and green infrastructure back to the waterfront to Lake Ontario. The study documents several aspects of the Garrison watershed: the considerable amount of open spaces, their area and type, geological formations, existing storm water infrastructure underground, the areas of fill along the ravine path, and an abstracted locational plan for water retention ponds.”
The Garrison Creek route is also referenced with some cool markers, as seen below:
Some additonal links include the Taylor Massey Project and Lost Creeks of South Etobicoke both smaller scale projects highlighting areas of Toronto lost creeks. Also, more recently, Trevor Heywood posted a long series of walks on Twitter, with his explorations around the Yellow Creek, showing that the passion for exploration of Toronto hidden creeks is alive and well. On that note, few more interesting images in the form of murals, first posted by @SheilaBoudreau of a Lost Rivers mural I’ve seen a bit; the second a map, posted by @tashmilijasevic both locations unknown to me but i’m sure folks in the area know where they’re at.
A Photographic Abundance
Photographers become drainers seems to be a theme in many cities. In addition to Michael Cook from The Vanishing Point mentioned above, another photographer focusing on underground Toronto is Jeremy Kai, (Twitter @RiversForgotten From his site: “His underground photography explores the concepts of urban watersheds and the methods in which cities interact with water and waste water. These processes go mostly unobserved by the general public. Kai hopes that by documenting the city’s lost rivers and overlooked spaces beneath the streets, he can awaken a new sense of mystery and mythology in the minds of urban dwellers everywhere. His first book, Rivers Forgotten, is published by Koyama Press. It was released December 2011 and features his underground photography”
In a different bent is a recent exhibit entitled ‘Nine Rivers City’, From the site: “From west to east, nine rivers feed into Lake Ontario. View a map of the rivers here. Harbourfront Centre has commissioned six contemporary visual artists to capture the complexities of each of these waterways that run throughout our urban landscape. Situated against the shoreline of Lake Ontario, NINE RIVERS CITY showcases how these extraordinary waterways connect us, attract us and mystify us.” A clickable map showcases photographs spatially, such as Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s HWY 401 below:
Another take on this is Kathy Toth, who formerly had a page on her website ‘Watercourse (Buried Creeks)’ which seems to have been taken down, but does delve into the subject matter with her Hidden Toronto work, which aims to be reprinted soon. Per her page: “The first edition of Hidden Toronto featured a selection of hidden infrastructure locations in Toronto, including bridges, drains and rooftops where graffiti has sprung up. Many of the locations are off the map and can be found with some searching or luck. Some of them are right downtown under foot, others are on the edge of greater Toronto area. I decided to showcase these spaces, and the artwork painted on them because they exist in an extremely narrow circle of composed of graffiti artists, a few photographers, and the odd individuals who either live in the surrounding areas. These environments have a unique character and the artists who work here take advantage of the serenity and isolation afforded by these surreal landscapes sometimes just 100m away from busy roadways.”
Can massive computing power and artificial intelligence crack the code of deep history of places? This is a fundamental question of a project discussed in an article on nature.com “The ‘time machine’ reconstructing ancient Venice’s social networks”. Frédéric Kaplan plans to “…scan documents including maps, monographs, manuscripts and sheet music. It promises not only to open up reams of hidden history to scholars, but also to enable the researchers to search and cross-reference the information, thanks to advances in machine-learning technologies.”
The goal is to crunch enough data to outline the connections that emerged in historical societies including “social networks, trade, and knowledge”. While of interest to historians, it could also inform economists and epidemiologists, as well as other disciplines. Much like Rome, Venice, mentioned as “The Serene Republic“, is a good for this endeavor due to the wealth of knowledge and its organization, aided by its protected lagoons and it’s desire for documentation.
“As Venice’s empire grew, it developed administrative systems that recorded vast amounts of information: who lived where, the details of every boat that entered or left the harbour, every alteration made to buildings or canals.”
While there was been study over the years, much of the archive “…predominantly written in Latin or the Venetian dialect, has never been read by modern historians. Now it will all be systematically fed into the Venice Time Machine, along with more unconventional sources of data, such as paintings and travellers’ logs.”
Kaplan’s interest has been to employ AI for lingustics, so the concept of using machine learning to study patterns in language is fundamental to the work, along with digitization of many thousands of pages of documents, building on work already done by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
There’s a lot more about the linguistic ‘hacking’ of documents, as illustrated below, but the concept also involved diving into the archival cartography. “In 2006, a huge, purpose-built scanner began to digitize the archive’s precious store of more than 3,000 maps of Italian towns, including many commissioned by Napoleon. These ‘cadastral’ maps delineate property boundaries and record the ownership of small parcels of land; some of the documents are as large as 4 metres by 7 metres.”
The result is the ability to create some amazing detail with overlay of multiple sources:
“One cadastral map of Venice that he commissioned in 1808 has provided a backbone of reliable data, allowing historians to add geographical context to a 1740 census that lists citizens who owned and rented property in the city. By combining this with 3D information about buildings from paintings such as those of Canaletto, the time-machine team has produced an animated tour through Venice, showing which businesses were active in each building at the time.”
A video on YouTube outlines the ambitions of the project. From their summary: “The State archives of Venice contain records stretching back over a thousand years. The vast collection of maps, images and other documents provide an incredibly detailed look into Venetian history. This could be used to create a kind of virtual time machine for historians and the public to explore the city.”
What implications does this have for hidden hydrology? To me, the overwhelming task of both digitizing information and determining patterns is something that is daunting for a team of professionals, much less individuals looking to glean discoveries from their local place. The sheer effort and technology in digitization and analysis could be employed to discover key linkages and patterns that may illuminate historical hydrology, topography, and other clues. An example mentioned in the article highlights the concept, using animations to look at spatio-temporal change , in fact “One is a dynamic video of the development of the Rialto from AD 950 onwards, using diverse sources of information at different time points. The simulation shows how the buildings — and the iconic Rialto Bridge — sprung up among the salt marshes, along with the area’s periodic destruction by fires and subsequent reconstructions.”
The possibilities with large data sets is intriguing, and the article mentions cross-disciplinary opportunities, as well as larger connections to other ‘time machines’ in cities, such as a new effort in Amsterdam and possibilities in Paris. It adds a dimension of big data as a potential avenue for exploration, yet is tempered by age-old techniques and cautions of the next shiny object.
“The unbridled ambitions of the time-machine project are a concern for some researchers, not least because many of its core technologies are still being developed. “The vision of extending digital representation into different time slots is absolutely, self-evidently right — but it might be better to develop things more in a lot of different, small projects,” says Jürgen Renn, a digital-humanities pioneer and a director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Nevertheless, Daston suspects that the time machine heralds a new era of historical study. “We historians were baptized with the dust of archives,” she says. “The future may be different.”
Header image via: nature.com
The distant fourth and final part of the Waterlines class featured the work of Eric Wagner and Tom Reese for their book Once and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish. I unfortunately was out of town for work during this session, so don’t have the specifics on their actual presentation but wanted to close the loop on the class and explore this last resource through looking at the book itself (although they may have talked about something totally different).
The Duwamish is a fitting addition to the discussions of Geology, Archaeology, and the Ship Canal previously discussed, as it is the one and only river in the City of Seattle. It, much like the Duwamish people, also best signifies the history of manipulation, exploitation and degradation, and the current challenges to restore both culture and ecology along this urban waterway. It’s also in sharp juxtaposition to the current boom, as summaried by Duamish Tribal member and director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, James Rasmussen: “We need to always remember that the wealth of Seattle was created on the backs of the Duwamish River and the Duwamish People.”
Wagner discusses this evolution of the Duwamish River and people along with the greater City of Seattle through multiple essays. They cover the inevitable growth leading the dispossession of the lands, the straightening and polluting of the river, the erasure of ecology and culture. It uncovers the long truth for Seattle about conquering nature, as has been discussed in the previous Waterlines lectures, here with Wagner mentioning it in the context of the Duwamish, “…to conquer something at least implies a respect for it… The Duwamish River cannot claim such dignity.”
Now not even a river (classified a “waterway”) and a toxic Superfund site, the idea of restoration is difficult to imagine. There is lots of hope and much work outlined in the book on the potential, in the words of William Jordan, to “heal the scars or erase the signs of disturbance.”
There are a few maps early in the text, showing the 1856 Map of the region prior to the mass of European settlement, next to the 1958 Map, which shows development and channelization and virtual obfuscation of the natural systems. As Wagner mentions, in the concept of restoration “In seeking such a reversal restoration becomes a question of time, and therefore a historical exercise as much as it is a moral or a spiritual one. What point in a river’s past should we aim for? When was it the best version of itself? What processes from that period can we bring back now?”
A theme of the book then is put at the beginning of the introduction:
“We strive for a past we have never known, having only read about it, or seen in in faded pictures, or heard of it in stories about an old, shadowed river that once ran so full of life and magic that it filled the people who lived on it with awe, terror, and love. When we arrived at that place — if we are capable of reaching it, if we can recognize it should we get there — we will have found a way of seeing something that has until now been ignored, dismissed, and very nearly lost: a river from end to beginning.”
Subsequent chapters cover the history of the River through a Salish parable called the “Epic of the Winds”, and the importance of this place in the life cycle for Chinook Salmon; land erasure and land making, the industrial heritage, large scale camouflage to win World War II (seen below, the ‘streetscape of a village draped on top of Boeing Plant 2 along the Duwamish, the facility constructing B-17 Bombers, to throw off potential attacks.
image via Boeing
This patriotic and economic value of the altered Duwamish in Plant 2, Terminal and hundreds of other comes with a legacy of toxicity the persists and will continue for millenia. In further essays we learn about poet Richard Hugo‘s regionalist riffs on the Duwmaish, and learn about John Beal‘s tireless work to save Hamm Creek, and modern day restoration efforts including hatcheries. Will the River rebound? How long will it take? Who knows, but as Wagner mentions:
“…the Duwamish River has always been a place to test the surprising range of the possible. Settlers looked at acres of mud flats and forest and saw a city. City engineers looked at a floodplain and saw a waterway. Businessepeople looked at a waterway and saw a waste management system. Now, we look at a Superfund site and see a healthy river filled with fish that are safe to seat. All those earlier versions came to pass. Why should this latest not as well.”
While the first half is well illustrated with Tom Reese’s photos, the second part of the book is exclusively devoted to the photographs, capturing the range of themes, including the river itself, as well as the degradation and activities around its restoration. Bolstering the text, this beautiful, damaged place offers sorrow as well as hope. As Reese mentions in the Coda, “The Duwamish also informs our subconscious desire for connection and our intensifying undercurrent of worry. it can transport us to places within and beyond our own lives, reminding us what is precious, asking for our devotion.”
Some of the photos from the book are peppered through this post are also on his website, so peruse on over there to catch more imagery, or just buy the book because it’s a great addition and has even more images that you’ll come back to more than once.
An extended video probably will help fill in some of the blanks also – from about a year ago at Town Hall “…featuring Tom Reese and Eric Wagner, co-authors of “Once and Future River: Reclaiming the Duwamish”; James Rasmussen, Director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition; and Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times Environmental Reporter”
Header image Copyright Tom Reese – “Last natural bend in lower Duwamish at Kellogg Island” – all other images, unless noted, are by Reese as well.
River Piracy sounds like an exotic form of stream based pillage and plunder, but rather refers to the reorientation of stream flow from one channel to another. Also known as stream capture, the causes vary, and include tectonics shifts which changes slope, natural dams (landslide or ice), headward and lateral erosion, karst topography, and glacial retreat. Notable ice dams have diverted rivers, of note is the River Thames, which was shifted 450,000 years ago cause it to
A recent set of stories about the Slims River in the Yukon territory illustrates the last of these points, where the retreat of the Kaskawulsh glacier and it’s shift from the Slims River to the northwest and into the adjacent Kaskawulsh River to the southeast. The phenomenon isn’t uncommon, but the pace in which this ‘theft’ occurred is notable: “Such a transformation has occurred numerous times throughout the planet’s geological history – often due to gradual erosion or the movement of a fault – but has never been observed to occur as suddenly, happening over just a few days in May 2016. ‘Geologists have seen [evidence of] river piracy before, but nobody to our knowledge has documented it actually happening [within] our lifetimes,’ explains Shugar, Assistant Professor of Geoscience at the University of Washington, Tacoma.” The image below shows the “aerial view of the ice canyon that now carries meltwater from the Kaskawulsh Glacier, seen here on the right, away from the Slims River and toward the Kaskawulsh River.”
A map of the area shows the relationship of the river and the shift, which short-circuited a longer path through the Kluane River into the Yukon River and eventually the Bering Sea, now connecting to the Alksek River and flowing into the Pacific Ocean. From a global perspective the flow doesn’t mean much, but on a local scale the impact is more acute.
From the article in the Globe and Mail, “Climate change stole a Yukon river almost overnight, scientists say. Here’s how“, which mentions the process at work:
“That water now flows into the Kaskawulsh River, a tributary of the Alsek, which runs southward to the Pacific. Following this route, it reaches the ocean some 1,330 kilometres away from where it would otherwise have ended up. Signs of the rerouting have been observed on both sides of the mountainous divide. Gauges on the Alsek River reveal that it experienced a record discharge last year. Because the river mostly flows through parks and protected lands, the increase has had no immediate human impact. On the Slims side, the effect of water loss is more obvious. Last summer, Kluane Lake dropped a full metre below its lowest recorded level for that time of year. The reduced inflow from the Slims spells a huge change for the 65-kilometre-long lake, with implications for nearby communities and visitors who access its waters for fishing and other activities.”
The quality of the Lake ecosystem is one issue also, as mentioned in the Guardian article “The river stolen by climate change”, quoting scientist Jim Best: “The dramatic switch was caused by the rapid retreat of the Kaskawulsh glacier – thanks to climate change – which caused the flow of the meltwater to be redirected, and prompts questions about the impact it could have on the surrounding Yukon territory. Best points out that while much of the southern part of the territory is ‘sparsely populated’, and therefore potential flooding caused by the extra water is unlikely to cause any ‘real human impacts’, the opposite issue could be a cause for concern further north. ‘If Kluane Lake levels go down,’ he predicts, ‘the lake could thus have no inflow and no exit flow, which would radically alter lake water nutrients and circulation, and this may impact on the lacustrine ecology. In addition, if the lake outlet were to dry up as a consequence, this river would be dry or far lower and thus the few habitations along it would be affected.’”
The dry valley left over, in this case the Slims River, is referred to as a wind gap, and scientists have discussed the potential issues erosion and dust storms. As noted in the CBC story, “Retreating Yukon glacier makes river disappear“, the river is: “…prone to dust storms. “It’s certainly not unusual to see rapid drainage changes in and around these glaciers. It’s a common situation,” Bond said. “Until vegetation really starts to stabilize that floodplain, it’s going to be a dusty place, I’d imagine … It will be a really interesting study to see how that floodplain evolves in the next ten years or so.”
The idea of using art to express historical stream routes is a powerful and simple method for connecting people with hidden hydrology. There are many such precedents, but a recent version I thought I’d mentioned comes from environmental artist Stacy Levy, as part of a workshop at Hunter College sponsored by NYC H20. I noticed this first on the site untapped cities, and it was covered in the New York Times the following day.
Levy took folks on a tour with some bonus artistic endeavors: “On Friday afternoon, using blue chalk paint, Stacy Levy plans to palpate a few sidewalks on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to visualize the path of a stream, now out of sight, that has been running since ancient times.” She used the 1865 Viele map of Manhattan, a much documented source of hidden streams in New York, as inspiration of the flows of the walk. A snip of one of the portions of the map, and a closeup of the 1865 map (which are probably somewhat close in content but somewhat stylistically different).
As the NY Times mentioned, “Searching for the city’s vanished waterways has become a form of specialized detective work, much of which begins with the Viele Map.” From untapped cities: “Water is one of our favorite substances, yet we know very little about its ways,” says artist Stacy Levy. She explores hidden patterns of hydrology, drainage and microscopic life forms, from tiny microorganisms to large watersheds, using art to reveal the natural processes. This event will explore Levy’s collaborations with urban nature that meld art, engineering and ecology.”
There’s also a bit of history from long-time buried creek explorer (both on the surface and as a drainer down in the pipes) Steve Duncan, who has documented this at his expansive Watercourses blog. He is quoted in the NY Times: “The stream being traced made its way along the east side of Manhattan, with some of it captured in a pond in the southeast corner of Central Park, and other branches eventually flowing into the East River at 47th Street. Historical texts show that a “kissing bridge” crossed it around 50th Street, and the name of the waterway appears to have been De Voor’s Mill Stream”
A great follow-up about the tour was a post “Mystery of the E. 64th Street Puddle” on the ThisEastSide site, which captures a bit of the day of framed in the form of a mysterious perennial puddle. As mentioned in the article:
“A woman who was walking by, who works on the block, alerted us to the persistent nature of the puddle,” Matt Malina, founder of NYC H2O, told us. “I also overheard a mother say to her daughter as they walked by, ‘That’s why this is the mosquito block!’”
The mystery was solved, again quoting ThisEastSide: “The building of Manhattan paved over many primeval brooks and streams. But some, like the De Voor Mills Stream under 64th Street, just want to be free. The puddle is a spring that feeds the stream. During heavy rains, it fills nearby basements with water. (A superintendent at one of the nearby buildings told Malina that he keeps a sump pump in the basement for such occasions.)”
Part of Levy’s tour, where “…she recently took a group of volunteers to the site of the puddles (actually, there are two) and supervised their drawing of swirls representing the turbulent water under the sidewalks.” Seen below, tour goers and passersby joined in the fun, marking swirly water flow patterns on the old path of the buried stream. In typical urban fashion, the police were called, “concerned that the group was defacing the sidewalk. Their worries were dispelled upon learning that the medium was chalk. As it happened, the weekend rains washed away most of the drawings.” As author Froma Harrop concludes, “So the E. 64th Street puddle is actually a spring feeding the De Voor Mills Stream. Henceforth, let’s call the puddle a “spring.” A lot more elegant, don’t you think?”
The chalk paint is an interesting idea to engage without permanently marking – perhaps just to avoid getting the police called on you. The recent work in chalk is a more ephemeral version of Levy’s 2004 work Streamlines, which used permanent paint, glass beans, stone and bronze to mark 400 feet of waterway along paths at the North Carolina Zoological Park, Greensboro, NC
“The hydrological patterns of the nearby stream were enlarged and painted onto the meandering path with road striping paint. Patterns of vortices were painted where the path curved or went past a manhole cover. Parallel lines of laminar flow depicted the straight portions of the path. These amazing patterns are invisible to the eye, but present in all flowing streams.”
From Levy’s website, it looks like there are plenty more inspirations for us to tap into, including one of her projects I’ve used countless times as a precedent for project, the fantastic Ridge and Valley at the Penn State Arboretum, with a stunning etched bluestone plaza with “a 924 sq. ft. map shaped like the Spring Creek watershed” fed by rainwater.
Will spend some more time here, the well is deep.
The first of what I hope are many field trips and investigations is now up on the site in a section called Explorations. This will be the location for these site-specific journeys, and will be augmented with maps, narratives, soundscapes, and images layered to tell the Water Stories of these hidden streams and buried creeks.
For this initial foray, in Seattle, it was immense fun to wander the areas north of Green Lake and discover the history of Licton Springs. As you see from the map below, the historic routes show a stream flowing southwards into Green Lake. The reach of the waterway starts around Licton Springs Park, where it is sees daylight for a stretch, along with some other intermittent segments where it pops up in surprising ways, throughout the neighborhood.
The story of Licton Springs focuses on the significance to Native Duwamish peoples, who celebrated the place and it’s spiritual, reddish, iron-oxide infused waters, and to early settlers, who lived and recreated, bathed in thermal pools, and bottled and drank of the healing mineral waters.
Like many places, the history of how the place evolved and how it was maintained is of interest, but the journey of the now and the experience of a day of exploring the edges, the muddy margins, and the sloppy seeps (lost shoes included) connect the history of place to the experience of today.
Beyond the park, there are a number of other discoveries that paint a story of people and place woved together through the flow of water. Discovery of the story of Pilling’s Pond, a small section carved out of the flow of Licton Springs to provide a sanctuary where Charles Pilling became a world expert duck breeding in the middle of Seattle.
The discoveries also include a unique segment of stream fronting Ashworth Avenue, a single residential block with driveways and fences literally bridging over the final daylit segment of of Licton Springs, showing how each owner shaped, or left feral, their little piece of the wild.
The connection as well with the virtual, with the final connection is made to Green Lake. Now only connected via overflow, the tracery of Licton Springs, imagined perhaps in some abstracted water play forms, swales, and cascades, may still be allow the creek to be evident, if only in our imagination.
The link below expands on this summary, so check it out, go out and explore, and come back with some water stories of your own.
Continuing to cover the range of cities with active projects and people investigating hidden hydrology, I return to Indianapolis, which i covered a bit in my early post on Ben H. Winter’s novel Underground Airlines. The subject of the novel and post focused on Pogue’s Run, a buried creek that served as the locus for a pivotal scene in the novel. The specifics can also be gleaned from the Atlas Obscura post “You Can Follow a Hidden Stream Beneath Indianapolis—If You Know Where to Look” here for more context on this, which originally was the tip off on this great story. And definitely, beyond the hidden hydrology reference, the novel was one of the best I read last year.
As with most cities, one river or creek seems to dominate the imagination, and Pogue’s Run is that for Indianapolis, with a number of historical ruminations, such as Historic Indianapolis, which showed a etching by Thomas B. Glessing of “Surveyors mapping the new capital in 1820”, and noting that the stream was probably Pogue’s Run.
In the course of finding out about Pogue’s Run, a number of other interesting people and projects emerged from Indianapolis. Below are some summaries
A main feature of the original article, beyond Winters’ book, is the photography and music of Stuart Hyatt, who has documented the underground stream in depth. A few of his photographs from the previous post, along with links to the video of his band Field Works, whose album is aptly titled ‘Pogue’s Run’.
A video connects the music to place, which “follows a humble waterway through urban neighborhoods in Indianapolis. From its source, through the city, into a mysterious three-mile underground tunnel, and finally to the White River, Pogue’s Run represents the ongoing tension between nature and civilization.”
Charting Pogue’s Run
Artist Sean Derry’s work “Charting Pogue’s Run” investigated the creek via an 1831 map, with a thin line of blue paint and cast iron marks woven through.
A bit of description (longer version on his site):
“Charting Pogue’s Run investigates the past and present characteristics of Pogue’s Run as it flows from the Neareastside neighborhood to its confluence with the White River south of downtown. Beginning on E. New York St., along the boundary of the Cottage Home neighborhood, a blue line and small iron markers map the stream’s 1831 path through the city. This addition to the city-scape traces the streams meandering path across 4.5 miles of Indianapolis.
The work, along with Hyatt’s, was covered as part of the free workshops, “Rethink, Reconnect, Reclaim”, which “explores creative approaches for improving Indianapolis”. See a video of the project here:
A surprise was finding the comprehensive Streamlines project, led by environmental artist Mary Miss, a continuation of her legacy of environmental art, in this case “StreamLines is situated on five sites, in diverse communities along tributaries of the White River. Miss’ sculptural elements reveal the natural systems and infrastructure that impact the Indianapolis waterways and encourage exploration of the area.”
Apart from site specific art: “StreamLines is an interactive, place-based project that merges the sciences and the arts to advance the community’s understanding and appreciation of Indianapolis’ waterways. This work is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation and is modeled on the City as Living Laboratory/FRAMEWORK. StreamLines features art created for specific sites along six Indianapolis waterways of focus to Reconnecting to Our Waterways (ROW): Five environmental installations by Mary Miss/City as Living Laboratory® (MM/CaLL); A series of dance performances by Butler University Department of Dance; Six musical compositions curated by Michael Kaufmann/The Kinetic Project; A collection of poems penned by Indiana poets selected by Poets House”.
A diagram of the concept of her site specific installations, which include similar themes, as noted, around the concept that ‘Rivers are the Lifelines of our Cities.”
Along with some of the installations themselves, which are place based but tied together thematically. An excerpt from her site: “At each site, the three states of water – ICE, VAPOR, WATER are written on the surface of the mirrors. Words on the ground express the themes of each different location. They are formed of reverse letters, which are legible in the reflection in the mirror above. Site themes address water and its many states in the environment, the importance of water to Indianapolis’ development and history, water infrastructure and the connection to the watershed. At the outer edges of the installations, smaller mirrors (18” in diameter) and small pedestals in groups of two or three present texts, much of it legible only in reflection, such as poetry, scientific and historical facts, riddles, jokes, prompts, and questions. These texts also direct visitors to the app and website for additional information.”
The markers and poetry are located in and around installations, circling back to the formative river, the poem “Pogue’s Lost Horse” by Catherine Bowman connect to the place in other ways, through words, visions, and rhythm.
The dance and musical numbers are available on the site and best captured in video, as well as the Streamlines Vimeo page, which also has interviews and other info. One of my favorite is the ‘Choreographing the Movement of the Waterways’, described here: “This video explores the story behind the dance component of StreamLines. On September 24, 2015, more than 100 members of the Butler Ballet performed Riverrun, a site-specific dance choreographed by Butler University Dance Professor Cynthia Pratt for the StreamLines project. This dance was part of the programming for the project’s launch and performed in Holcomb Gardens on the campus of Butler University. The site-specific art invites the community to learn, explore and experience the science of Indianapolis’ water systems”
There’s also a video delving into the work on the musical composition and soundscape, and “explores the story behind the six musical compositions of StreamLines. Curator Michael Kaufmann worked with six musical artists – Olga Bell, Hanna Benn, Stuart Hyatt, Roberto Lange, Matthew Skjonsberg and Moses Sumney – to create the sound art for StreamLines. The site-specific art invites the community to learn, explore and experience the science of Indianapolis’ water systems”
Beyond Pogue’s Run, the work draws from a variety of local waterways, as mentioned in this post from Next City: “The White River flows through downtown, joined by Fall Creek, Pogue’s Run, Central Canal, Pleasant Run and Eagle Creek, many of which also flow through Indy’s most underserved neighborhoods.” Part static placemaking and part events, there is a simple google map to locate the places included.
It’s really interesting to see how Indianapolis expresses the connection to lost waterways and hidden hydrology primarily through art, spanning literature, dance, poetry, music, and environmental installations. It showcases the diversity of means to tell these water stories – technical, mapping, ecological, historical, artistic, designer, and provides a unique snapshot of a community, it’s rivers, and how each are shaped, and shape one another.
- Note: Header image of Pogue’s Run – via Wikipedia, credit: By National Weather Service Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service
Week three of the Waterlines class featured Seattle writer and geologist David B. Williams. Perhaps best known as the author of the recent ‘Too High and Too Steep’, a chronicle the large-scale manipulations (topographic and hydrologic, to name a few), Williams shared a more focused talk on his upcoming book Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal, which coincides with the Centennial of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks this year. Following the course theme, and touching on some previous topics, the story encompasses the trials and tribulations to get the locks built, and the large-scale impacts that such endeavors have on the ecological and hydrological systems of Seattle.
David is an engaging storyteller, so he laid out the evolution of this significant part of Seattle’s history, touching on the geology (with the north south orientation how important the waterways were to getting around, especially, east-west movement), and the use for years by native people, who used the portage between Lake Washington to Lake Union, and then a quick connection to gain access to the ocean, and vice-versa, for the past 10,000 to 12,000 years, with stories of Kitsap Suquamish coming to Lake Washington because it was one of the largest freshwater lakes in the region. The idea of a ship canal of some sort is as old as Seattle itself, first pitched by Thomas Mercer in 1854 and finally coming to fruition as a way to move coal, timber, and people, after many attempts 63 years later. In fact there were multiple routes proposed and attempted with big Seattle names like the aforementioned Mercer, along with Burke, Denny, and Gilman, cutting through Smith Cove, routes across what is currently downtown, and one of the most absurd in Seattle’s history – the Semple Canal. This map shows a number of these routes, and also the one natural, yet not very viable connection vai the Black River, which was mentioned in the previous post on Seattle archaeology as outlet from Lake Washington and would eventually fall victim to the draining of Lake Washington.
As mentioned, Semple’s Canal was perhaps the craziest scheme, wanting to slice through one of Seattle’s seven hills, Beacon Hill, which stands almost 350 feet tall. Williams documents it on his blog in this post, with a couple of graphics showing the route and section cut (noting a maximum cut of a mere 284′-6″), highlighting the absurd notion of cutting a canal through a hill, although a good portion of the material removed from the canal before it was shut down was used to fill the Duwamish estuary into what is now industrial lands, and frankly, based on some of the other history, it would not have surprised me if this would have happened.
The eventual route of the Canal was landed on eventually towards the end of the 19th century, connecting to the Puget Sound through the existing Shilshole Bay and the eventual location of the locks, connecting through Salmon Bay, which was a fluctuating saltwater tide zone, connecting through the Fremont Cut to Lake Union, and the Montlake Cut connecting Portage Bay on the west with Union Bay and larger Lake Washington on the east.
The conditions prior to implementation show Salmon Bay connected to salt water, and involved slicing through Ross Creek and wetland zones between Salmon Bay and Lake Union, where a creek was feeding the Bay. To the east the portage had become a narrow log flume at the narrowest point connecting Union Bay and Portage bay, completing the connection from lake to sea.
As mentioned, the eastern Montlake Cut was used as a log flume with a narrow channel (developed by Denny and others) connecting through Portage Bay, and a similar effort was made to connect through Ross Creek via what is now the the Fremont Cut. A photo showing the area looking from Union Bay towards the west from Paul Dorpat’s blog showing the isthmus with Portage Bay in the distance prior to ship canal. This area was sliced through with a log flume (seen on the 1894 map above) in the 1880s and at times through the early 1900s to move timber from inner areas to Seattle and beyond, setting the stage for the eventual connection.
A second image showing the narrow connection of the log sluice from 1886 that is seen on the 1894 map, one of the thin connections which eventually were expanded for free flow of goods and people across Seattle. A dam at the upper end held Lake Washington above the level of Lake Union, and logs were dropped into this chute to float on the next leg of the journey.
While the connections seem logical, the elevations of each water body were different, with the level of Lake Union around +20, the level of Lake Washington at +29, and Salmon Bay elevation lower as it entered the Puget Sound, often not having standing water at times. The process of building the locks set all of these elevations at the same as Lake Union, which raised Salmon Bay and made it a continuous fresh water bay, which is why it works as a place to over-winter fishing fleets as it is today (see Deadliest Catch) to keep boats out of salt water. It also lowered Lake Washington, which as mentioned disconnected the lake from it’s natural outfall at the Black River to the south, replumbing the south area of Seattle while creating a whole lot of new lakefront land. The completion of construction of the locks and the eventually breaching of the Montlake coffer dam (below) and the other coffer dams at the Fremont Cut, (after having to shore them up a few times), filled Salmon Bay with fresh water, and caused Lake Washington to drain down the 9 feet slowly over a few months
The locks, which opened to fanfare and massive 4th of July celebration in 1917, are fun to visit today to watch ships come in, go to the fish ladder, and see the activities. According to Williams, these are the only government locks in the US that are crossable to the public (didn’t know that) and the main traffic, although peppered with an occasional working vessel to Portage bay, consists mostly of pleasure craft. Also, while they did originally build a fish ladder, it didn’t work well (and was improved years later, which make a fun viewing opportunity). Williams mentioned that fish tended to just get into the locks and ride up to travel upstream. It’s an interesting resilience story that fish that were cut off from the Cedar River where they spawned when the Black River was disconnected, and instead of heading up the Duwamish/Black/Cedar to the south, would still be able to figure out how to get upstream via alternative routes via Shilshole miles north from their original spawning route. Talk about a well established navigation system.
The impacts for Seattle, much like the other massive changes, ended up having huge economic implications in positive ways, with the ability to tap into industrial lands for coal, timber, and shipbuilding, and some minor military use, along with what are mostly now marinas for pleasure craft today. The fact that maritime industries are only second to aerospace in the Seattle economy is surprising, which owes much to the ship canal. Seems a common story for Seattle, make massive change and reap the benefits (to some), even if it cuts off a river that happens to be the home place for local Native people. To comprehend the 60+ year journey from idea to fruition, and the hundred years of operation since, another story of changing land and waters influencing our urban lives every day. Excited to see some of the events and read David’s upcoming book for more. On that note…
Addenda: Making the Cut
A great resource on the upcoming centennial festivities is the website Making the Cut: The Locks, The Lakes and a Century of Change, which provides info on events, much of the history mentioned above, and a good section on historic maps which shows a good cross section of hidden hydrology in relationship to the hydrological manipulations to connect the lakes to the ocean. A series of before and after maps documents the changes in the locks, Lake Union and Lake Washington, and other areas. The series below highlights the evolution from the tidal marsh of Salmon Bay prior to the locks being installed in 1916 to the freshwater waterway today.