An email from a reader of the site posed a few interesting questions about the two small lakes in the northern sections of Seattle, specifically discussing the current and historical outflows of these lakes.  I’ve discussed the small lakes in brief here, related maps of their bathymetry and tangentially in the context of Licton Springs. However, this was a good instigation to to focus on some more specifics of these urban water bodies.  I will refrain from my tendency to write another way-too-long post (of which this will inevitably turn into) and parcel this out in a few shorter ones, the first focusing on drainage questions (of which these are all connected) and then individual posts on Haller Lake, Bitter Lake, and Green Lake, as they are important parts of the hydrological history of Seattle.

To understand the overall configuration of water in Seattle, I did find this document by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) titled ‘City of Seattle State of the Waters 2007‘. The first volume covers Seattle Watercourses, (which we will probably return to in the future), and in particular for our purposes here we look to Volume II: Seattle Small Lakes’  (both links above go to the PDFs – as I couldn’t find a page with a direct link) and it sounds like a great resource in need of an update.

For some general contents, a bit on lakes in general and their outfalls, from Vol. II, p.3:  “Lakes receive inflow from their surrounding watersheds through rivers, watercourses, overland and subsurface flow, and — in developed areas — from drainage pipes. Water typically exists a lake through a watercourse or river, although the outflows of most lakes in Seattle have been channeled into constructed drainage systems.”

HISTORIC DRAINAGE

In general, all three lakes are formed from Vashon glaciation, and as I mentioned previously, per geologist Stan Chernicoff, both Bitter and Haller lakes would be considered true kettle lakes, and Green Lake a hybrid, although still formed by glaciation.  The 1850s map locates the three Lakes, all of which are in the north portion of Seattle, but doesn’t offer too much in terms of drainage direction, aside from implying proximity between Thornton Creek drainage for Haller Lake, and Bitter Lake likely draining west due to proximity, neither show a visible outfall creek.

Green Lake it’s more obvious, with multiple inflows, including Licton Springs Creek, and the very distinct outflow that drains through Ravenna Creek southeast into Union Bay.

The 1894 USGS map offers us the aid of topography, along with a bit more more comprehensive creek coverage. Bitter Lake hints at the possibility of outfalls either direction, heading to the northwest down to ravines that skirt The Highlands and the Seattle Golf Club and outlet near Spring Beach, and also draining southeast towards a seasonal drainage. Haller Lake (titled Welsh Lake on the map) also has no visible outfall as well, but adjacent creeks that are part of Thornton Creek drainage nearby, and a wetland area to the south make me infer that these  would be like to be the natural drainage course of the lake.

Green Lake’s hydrology is a lot simpler to discern, with the similar inputs and outputs via the Ravenna outlet to the wetland zones near University Village and outlets into Union Bay.

TWO ALTERNATIVE THEORIES ON HISTORICAL DRAINAGE

One part I’ve always been a bit skeptical about in the USGS map is the location and extent of the drainage from Thornton Creek that looks to curve way west and intercept any south flow from the Bitter and Haller Lakes and direct it to the east to the larger Thornton Creek Basin.  Licton Springs Creek also flows south, and is in reality much further north than shown on maps, and the interface between the two basins if filled with springs and wetlands, so it’s likely there could have been some disconnect between what was there flowing south, and what was mapped flowing east.  However,  Alternative 1 uses the basis of the map as the correct flowline, so shows both Bitter Lake and Haller Lake draining towards a seasonal creek and wetland that exists in the South Branch of Thornton Creek, and a smaller drainage picking up Licton Springs Creek draining into Green Lake.  This mapped, overlaid on the 1894 map, shows an option for the lakes draining east, into Lake Washington. Dashed lines, for reference, are really basic watershed delineations, and the arrows show flow from lakes.

My gut is that both lakes flowed into Green Lake, via Licton Springs Creek, and then continued out to Ravenna.  Alternative 2 looks at a version of this where there is more of a distinct ridgeline separation between the Thornton Creek Basin and the drainage that flows north south, and that the survey misinterpreted the flowline that heads towards the east due to the aforementioned springs and wetlands.  The fact that the Licton Springs Creek is much further north than mapped, makes me posit that the upper lakes drained to this transfer point, and that instead of falling east, the flows kept going south into Green Lake, via the Licton Springs. Overlaid on the modern topography gives a bit of context to this configuration.

Both of these options are plausible, and the current outflows of the lakes (seen below) support this, with Bitter Lake draining to the Southeast and Haller Lake draining West.  This at least gives us the indication that these both flowed to the low north/south valley (where current Highway 99/Aurora Avenue runs), however, where they go after is still a bit of a mystery. My follow-up plan is to look at some Lidar or a DEM to provide a much clearer picture of the flowlines and ridgelines, which we can assume, much like the current topo, is mostly similar to its predevelopment configurations (i.e. places in Seattle where we didn’t move hills).  This will go beyond this back of the napkin approach above and see if that higher degree of detail unlocks any new info.

CURRENT DRAINAGE
While it’s hard to determine the exact nature of pre-development drainage on these lakes, we can infer much from these historic documents and topography.  The current system is more clear, although not visibly inherent due to the modernization and piping of drainage through large intercepter sewers – in this case the Densmore Avenue Drainage System, which runs north/south around the low flowline at Aurora Avenue (Highway 99).

The first hint of the split of drainage is in the State of the Waters, where both Bitter Lake and Haller Lake fall outside of their adjacent drainages going west to Piper’s Creek and east to Thornton Creek.  Figure 1 from the report shows a narrow band that is bisected by this linear north south zone, with both creeks located inside the boundary.

A search for the nature of this basin configuration is somewhat frustrating, mostly as it seems to be specifically not related to a creek so isn’t referenced as a watershed in the same way.  The SPU site on Urban Watersheds breaks down the city into four distinct areas of drainage, including the Puget Sound, Lake Washington, and the Duwamish River, as well as this uniquely land-locked zone we’re focused on, known as the Ship Canal/Lake Union basin

This is subdivided into some smaller sub-basins,including the Ship Canal Basin, the South Lake Union, and our zone, the North Lake Union Basin, which stretches up to the northern lakes, in that same narrow band, encompassing their drainages, then around Green Lake, and south to the interface with Lake Union.

The specific acrobatics that the Densmore Basin does to get down to Lake Union is hinted at but there’s not a lot of great maps, in particular the last section which .  This excerpt from the Seattle Comprehensive Plan Update Draft EIS from May 4, 2015 shows the ‘capacity constrained’ condition. but does highlight the basin and it’s

I dug a bit more and found another mystifyingly badly interfaced GIS portal, this time Drainage Basins layer from City of Seattle, embedded below.  Again, need to download the data and have a bit more freedom to sort it out in order to display it in a better way, but you get the idea from this map (especially if you zoom in on the areas below Green Lake, and can see the basin outline snaking in a thin, gerrymandered strip beside I-5.

 

The lakes themselves fit within the infrastructure systems, as seen below.  The City of Seattle Water and Sewer Map , which I thought would be helpful but really isn’t because you have to zoom way in to show pipes and so lose context, so it  doesn’t clearly articulate the drainage system elements enough to isolate (i included a few screenshots), so probably need to get some GIS files to draw these and separate mains, branches, etc. to isolate systems, but the narratives are pretty clear in explaining the outfall scenarios.

Haller Lake, which is around 15 acres of drainage, and has a maximum depth of 36 feet, get’s inputs from adjacent residential drainage areas (280 acre drainage), now drains via the Densmore system, as mentioned in State of the Waters, Vol II, the lake “…discharges through an outlet control structure on the western side of the lake, eventually draining to Lake Union via the Densmore storm drain system.”

Bitter Lake, measures 18.4 acres with a max depth of 31 feet, draining a smaller area (159 acre drainage). This lake is also being drained into the Densmore system, from the State of the Waters, Vol II, page 25: “At its southeastern end, Bitter Lake drains through a piped outlet that runs through a series of small ditches and culverts before entering the Densmore storm drain system on Aurora Avenue North.  The Densmore system is equipped with a low-flow bypass, which conveys runoff directly to Lake Union. Under high-flow conditions, runoff passes through Green Lake before discharging to Lake Union.”

Green Lake, has a surface area of 259 acres, and a shallow depth, maxing out at around 30 feet, drains a basin of 1875 acres of surrounding area, as well as getting inputs from the Densmore system, as mentioned above.  Alas, it now no longer drains into Ravenna Creek, but is diverted, per the State of the Waters, Vol II, and“now discharges to Lake Union through a single outlet located near Meridian Avenue North.  In the past, Green Lake also discharged to the combined sewer system via a number of outlets around the lake. However, these outlets were recently blocked and now are used by Seattle Parks and Recreation only during rainstorms of long duration when the Meridian Avenue North outlet is not adequate to maintain water levels in Green lake.”

 


HEADER: Haller Lake from above – via Windemere

 

 

I’ve been inspired by the work many others have done to capture the qualities of coverage of waterways at national scale both in the US and the UK, and beyond the mapping, appreciate their investigations into the unique distribution of place names, or toponyms.  The language of the waterways informs more local hidden hydrology endeavors, and understanding regional vernacular variations provides a snapshot into our varied relationships with water.  While a glance at the Pacific Northwest via these other maps shows that the predominant name for waterways is probably going to be either creek or river, I wanted to dive a bit deeper to see what other names are used to denote waterways.  To accomplish this, I spent some quality time with the USGS National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) to unlock a bit of the secrets of regional variations.

For starters, the NHD is an amazing resource of information, pulling together a comprehensive collection of data on flowlines, watershed basins, and more and the ability to get data from a variety of formats for small to large basins and states.  From their site, the purpose of the data is to: “define the spatial locations of surface waters. The NHD contains features such as lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, canals, dams, and stream gages, in a relational database model system (RDBMS). These data are designed to be used in general mapping and in the analysis of surface water systems.”  The first steps are a bit daunting, as the State of Washington included data with over 1.3 million flowlines, seen below in aggregate. The flowlines aren’t any one single waterway, but are the individual segments that make up each creek.

While the data preserves local basins shapes by sprawling outside state lines, I wanted to make this unique to Washington, so needed to clip it to the state boundary.  This ended up being a bit of a task for my rather slow computer to crank out the clipping, so I had to think of some alternatives to simplify the dataset.  Interestingly enough, over 80 percent of the flowlines (around 1.1 million of them) are unnamed, and while I’m sure are perfectly lovely bits of creek and river, they don’t help in our purpose in terms of deriving place names.  Eliminating them also serves the dual benefit of reducing the size of our working dataset quite a bit.  After trimming to the state boundaries, we ended up with a nice workable set of around 170,000 flowlines that have names, seen below.

Per the NHD FAQ page, “Many features also are labeled with the geographic name of the feature, such as the Ohio River. The feature names must be approved by the Board of Geographic Names (BGN) in order to qualify for inclusion in the NHD.”  More on the BGN and the wonderful assortment of place names that exist in these lists beyond their descriptor (which is perhaps the fuller idea of toponyms), in this case we break down the list and see what comes to the top.   Not surprising, but the use of the terms Creek and River dominate the landscape of Washington, accounting for 98% of all named flowlines.

Of the totals, creeks truly dominate, with around a 75% chance that a trickle of water in the state will be referred to as a creek.  The larger, less numerous rivers make up 23% of all flowlines, and the map above paints a wonderful portrait of the density of waters.  Separated out by type, you see the branched structures of trunk and stem that pumps water through most of the mountainous west side of the state, with the larger, drier plains to the east more open.  All total the combined length of these equals over 30,000 linear miles.

1. CREEKS

2. RIVERS

So we live in a creek and river area of the world.  Amidst these dominating toponyms are a distributed layer of types of flowlines that make up the remainder of the story of Washington, that final 2 percent, emphasized in a darker blue below.

The secondary naming of these includes the most common, isolated and color coded, with a legend denoting the eight most common alternative flowline names.

The relative percentage as a portion of that slim 2% of state flowlines, include:

  1. Slough (30%)
  2. Fork (16%)
  3. Canal (16%)
  4. Ditch (9%)
  5. Wasteway (4%)
  6. Branch (4%)
  7. Run (4%)
  8. Stream (3%)

The remaining 14% are composed of small portions that include Lateral, Brook, Drain, Slu (a variation of Slough), Gulch, Channel, Siphon and it’s alternative spelling Syphon, Washout, Waterway, Swale, Glade, Pass, Gate, and Range.  Many of these as we see, are geographically located towards the center of the state where agricultural landscape has created larger modifications and creation of waterways (described in the NHD data under the names like Artificial Path, Canal Ditch, and Connector).  There’s a split between more traditional waterway name variations (i.e. Slough, Fork, Branch, Run, Stream) and those that mostly utilitarian, capturing the poetry of industrialization (i.e. Wasteway, Ditch, Canal, Siphon, Lateral).  Removing the background landform, you see the composite of the different stream types as a whole, with creek/river in blue and the remainder by color.

For a more local view, the NHD data is a bit less sparse, not capturing the same amount of complexity is smaller urban waterways, plus without the other water bodies like lakes the geography seems somewhat off.  The purple to the west in the Olympic Pennisula shows a density of flowlines referred to as streams, and the darker red denotes a number of local sloughs that exist in local river systems.  It’s harder to see, but you can catch the Ship Canal in this group, and the slightly lighter red fork in the center is the infamous Duwamish Waterway, the lower stretch that runs through Seattle and ‘lost’ its designation as a river – interestingly enough it’s the only flowline in the state with that moniker.

I was expecting the dominance of creeks and rivers in the nomenclature, but was also really surprised that these combined to make up so many of the collective flowlines. Perhaps early settlers and place-namers lacking a bit of creativity.  It was also a good surprise to find a wealth of other place names in Washington, albeit many used to describe man-made features, including the most poetic name of wasteway, but enough fun to find an occasional branch, fork, brook, and run, which are more common elsewhere in the United States, per the other US maps.

These are pretty basic graphics exported from GIS just to give a feel for the data, so I’d like to play around more with representation, perhaps some sort of heatmap.  Also I’m eyeing Oregon for a comparison, and maybe wanting to dive into the waterbodies as well beyond linear flowlines, so more fun to come.  Who knows, an atlas of the whole country with a top ten of their most common names of each state.  Or maybe not…


HEADER:  Excerpt of River and Stream Composite Map – data from ESRI, NOAA, USGS – Mapping by Jason King – (all maps in post same attribution, © Jason King, Hidden Hydrology, 2018)

The exploration of hidden hydrology takes many forms. While often focusing on the visual through maps and illustrations, and the verbal, through documents and texts, there’s a range of other sensory experiences that connect lost rivers and buried creeks to our modern life.

It is vital to connect the lost experiences with actual places, if only help imagine what was there previously, as well as to, surprisingly, find the traces and fragments of the palimpsest that remains after decades or even centuries of erasure. Beyond the idea of just being mere ground-truthing as a method of connecting the maps and texts to actual places, is the ability to engage other senses of touch, hearing, and  We engage and use our brains differently when we’re outdoors versus indoors, as a recent study showed that “…brain activity associated with sensing and perceiving information was different when outdoors, which may indicate that the brain is compensating for environmental distractions.” 

At the root of this is physically experiencing spaces through exploration and discovery. While we will dive into the more specific literature and potential for walking/flâneury in this context of exploration that encompasses our collective sensory experience, for now we will focus on some relevant overlapping themes in terms of specific focused sensing in a spatial frame – specifically soundscapes and smellscapes.  Some, but not all of these fit exactly in the tighter sphere of hidden hydrology, however all do provide valid paths of inquiry that could be directly applied to increasing our understanding and engagement with these buried, disappeared, worlds.

As with all of these explorations, this quickly expanded beyond one post, so I’m focusing first on the concept of smell – and will follow up subsequently with elaboration on other sensory subjects.

Smellscapes

The sounds and smells of water are powerful sensory experiences, which can evoke a range of emotions, hint of hidden landscapes, confront and astound then sooth and delight.  There’s also a strong historical element, outlined beautifully in this CityLab article ‘Sense and the City‘, which discusses Carolyn Purnell’s book ‘The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses’.  in which she shows through explorations of noise, smell, and more over the span of history, “….while our bodies may not change dramatically, the way we think about the senses and put them to use has been rather different over the ages.” 

It is no accident that the events around what led to the massive reconfiguration of London through the burial of rivers into pipes is known as the ‘Great Stink‘, driven by growing water pollution and hot weather which  causing a mass exodus due to the notion that the smells could transmit disease, which was coupled with recent cholera outbreaks.  As mentioned in the Wikipedia article “The problem had been mounting for some years, with an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. The miasma from the effluent was thought to transmit contagious diseases, and three outbreaks of cholera prior to the Great Stink were blamed on the ongoing problems with the river.”  The scientist Michael Faraday, who investigated and wrote a letter on the poor conditions of the Thames, is depicted in this Punch Cartoon from 1855 holding his nose and “…giving his card to Father Thames”, commenting on Faraday gauging the river’s “degree of opacity”

And while access to land and reduction of negative impact so the irony of much urban modernization of rivers by burying them was often driven by smells, fear of pollution via miasma, or legitimate issues with outbreaks like cholera, the so called “Monster Soup” via the 1828 image by William Health depicting the water of the Thames.

Expanding that notion, I recall this map, via CityLab, of the ‘Stench Map” from the “Charles F. Chandler Papers,” Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscript Library, which was described as a “Map Showing Location of Odor Producing Industries of New York and Brooklyn, circa 1870”

They quote Virginia Tech historian Melanie Kiechle and author of the recent book “Smell Detectives“, who is quoted in the article about the fascination and challenge of spatially representing sensory data: “Trying to show smells, which are not concrete—they’re invisible, they’re ephemeral, they’re always changing…”.  She also authored this paper in Journal of Urban History called ‘Navigating by Nose: Fresh Air, Stench Nuisance, and the Urban Environment, 1840–1880” [paywalled] where she mentions “City dwellers used their understanding of stench nuisance as detrimental to health to construct smellscapes or olfactory maps of New York City. Such maps identified health threats and guided movements through or out of the city.” 

And another, referenced in this Instagram from the NY Public Library Map Division, entitled “Going the whole hog. The odiferous Midtown West in 1865”, which shows this excerpt from a map “Region of Bone Boiling and Swill-Milk Nuisances” found in “Report of the Council of hygiene and public health of the Citizens’ Association of New York upon the sanitary condition of the city” published by The Citizens’ Association of New York. Council of Hygiene and Public Health in 1865″

The short of it was, in the mid 19th Century, cities were often foul and disgusting places, and, if you want a more thorough and frightening description of the above, visit CityLab’s post “The Sanitary Nightmare of Hell’s Kitchen in 1860s New York”  which describes conditions that inevitably existed throughout many cities at the time.  For rivers, this meant modernization, none as famous as the sewerization of London by Joseph Bazalgette, which tackled the issues of urban pollution and flooding in the mid to late 1800s, while also opening up room for development.

This approach served as a model for many areas around the world confronting similar issues, and serves as perhaps the greatest driver of buried creeks and hidden hydrology in modern cities.  Not solely based on smell, but it was definitely a factor.  In entombing these rivers, we cut off the bad but also vacated the positive associations of the smell of water that couple nostalgia via memory. Good and bad, the evocation of smells of water – ocean funk, tidal salt/fresh water mixing, freshness of a bubbling creek, wet grass, and all things in between have strong impacts on our experiences.  One of these concepts mentioned recently in writings I recall, including both a chapter in Cynthia Barnett’s book “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History“, and featured as Robert Macfarlane’s word of the day, is the concept of “petrichor,” which is much more complex but can be simplified as the smell air before, or after rain, which is so evocative as to support an entire industry, outlined in detail in an Atlantic article by Barnett “Making Perfume from the Rain“.

The role smell plays in our experience and enjoyment of places is often not discussed specifically, beyond nuisances, so it is heartening to see artists, designers, and planners taking on this specific area for study.  We will expand more on the water-specific aspects of this in the future, but for now, a great intro is this wonderful meditation on ‘The Conservation of Smellscapes” from the blog Thinking like a Human, which captures the idea better than I, and which also references a couple of the smellscape pioneers which we will discuss in more length below.

Kate McLean

Anyone interesting in the topic of smellscapes has inevitably come across the amazing work of Kate McLean, especially with recent write-ups in Atlas Obscura, The New Yorker, BBC News, and  Co.Design to name a few.  McLean is an artist and designer and current PhD candidate who focuses on sensory research which is found at her site Sensory Maps. and you can follower her as well on her Twitter account @katemclean.  In her websites explanatory text, she mentions the techniques and use of the visual to represent the sensory: “The tools of my trade include: individual group smellwalks, individual smellwalks (the “smellfie”), smell sketching, collaborative smellwalks, graphic design, motion graphics, smell generation and smell diffusion, all united by mapmaking” 

A 2015 story on “Mapping Your City’s Smells” discusses some of her work, specifically for London, where they developed a ‘dictionary’ of urban smells, “…including less pleasant odors (“exhaust,” “manure,” “trash,” “putrid,” and “vomit” among them) and downright lovely-sounding ones (“lavender,” “fruity,” “BBQ,” and “baked,” for example).”  An aroma wheel developed by the team, captures the complexity of these smells.

From this, they used words in geotagged social media posts to capture a spatial picture of these elements, then mapped them based on concentrations in a Pollock-esque composition showing bad smells along red tones and nature smells in greens.  As noted:  “The researchers envision these maps being used in a variety of ways. Urban planners, they suggest, can use them to figure out which areas of the city smell the worst—and then consider using air-flow manipulation, green spaces, and pedestrian-friendly streets to change them. Maybe computer scientists will one day create a wayfinding app that gives users the most pleasant-smelling path to their destination. Or maybe city officials will be inspired to use social media data to more consistently monitor how their residents are being affected by smells—and by the pollution that creates it.”

An online map of this data also exists from McLeans collaborators Daniele Quercia, Rossano Schifanella, and Luca Maria Aiello, under the auspices of goodCitylife.

Smelly Maps provides an interactive version of the data for London, with some additional Info about this: “Think about your nose. Now think about big data. You probably didn’t realize it, but your nose is a big data machine. Humans are able to potentially discriminate more than thousands different odors. On one hand, we have our big data nose; on the other hand, we have city officials and urban planners who deal only with the management of less than ten bad odors out of a trillion. Why this negative and oversimplified perspective?  Smell is simply hard to measure.  SmellyMaps have recently proposed a new way of capturing the entire urban smellscape from social media data (i.e., tags on Flickr pictures or tweets). Cities are victims of a discipline’s negative perspective, only bad odors have been considered. The SmellyMaps project aims at disrupting this negative view and, as a consequence, being able to celebrate the complex smells of our cities.”  

Zooming in, you get a breakdown on the relative smell density and dominant smell in a dashboard style.

On the interactive side, a smellwalk project from 2014 for Amsterdam gives a good overview of the process, where multiple people walk and record information, with “Over 650 smells were detected by 44 people undertaking 10 smellwalks over a period of 4 days in April 2013. Based on written descriptions from the smellwalkers, 50 broad categories were identified. Both frequently-mentioned and curious smells feature on the map.”

She provides a short description of the results, discussing her expectation of cannabis instead replace with the reality of waffles, spices, herring, laundry, flowers and leaves detected by participants.

“Dots mark the origins of the smells, concentric circles indicate their range and the warped contours allude to potential smell drift in the north- and south-westerley winds encountered on the days of the smellwalks. It is estimated that humans have the capacity to discriminate up to 1 trillion smells and our experience is highly individual; to walk and sniff is to know.”

The color legend breaks down specific dominant smells (both frequently-mentioned and ‘curious) derived from the 650 smells, and a subset of the 50 categories.

The graphical quality of these maps amplifies the the experiential quality, which also I believe makes them more engaging to wider audiences of designers and planners.  The magnitude lines offer an opportunity to zoom in on some specific comments displayed in an engaging way.

A video of this Smellmap Amsterdam is worth a look also:

Smellmap Amsterdam©KateMcLean2014 from RCA IED on Vimeo.

The 2017 New Yorker article “The Graphic Designer Who Maps the World’s Cities By Smell” shows a more localized example, as the author, guided by a kit she downloaded from McLean’s site, later mapped by McLean herself in Greenwich Village.  One of McLean’s own earlier endeavors looked at some specific blocks in New York, with a hyperlocal exercise,inspired by another article from New York Magazine ‘The Smelliest Block in New York‘.

The work blending art and science is a great model, and the representation offers some good lessons for mapping less concrete elements in the urban landscape.  The further parallel with hidden hydrology is in being able to interpret the unseen, as McLean mentions in the Atlas Obscura post, ““Participants are often surprised about how many odors can be detected if you really pay attention to smell,” McLean says. “Humans can differentiate a trillion different smells but we breathe about 24,000 times a day. Much of it can easily go unnoticed.” “

Victoria Henshaw

Another pioneer in the field is Victoria Henshaw, who sadly passed away in 2014. She provided another strong voice in the field of smell, authoring a 2013 book on the subject, Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and designing city smell environments, which was “…contributing towards the wider research agenda regarding how people sensually experience urban environments. It is the first of its kind in examining the role of smell specifically in contemporary experiences and perceptions of English towns and cities, highlighting the perception of urban smellscapes as inter-related with place perception, and describing odour’s contribution towards overall sense of place.”

An urban planner by training and an academic, Henshaw wrote on the topic at her blog Smell and the City, which, along with her book left a wonderful trove of info on the topic. An interview in Wired UK “Odour map seeks to save endangered smells‘ hints at an oft-mentioned theme in any writing around the subject: that while we scrub the cities of the bad smells, we also lose the essence of what makes places unique and special.

As mentioned by Henshaw: “”The approach to town-centre management has always been about sterilisation,” she says. “We’ve become so unused to strong smells that we now have adverse reactions to them.”  This disassociation is both the target as well as the opportunity to tap into unrealized sensory design opportunities, as we gain more understanding of the impacts.  One such method as the ability to reroute ventilation systems “to the front of restaurants and entertainment venues — with the intention of attracting more customers,” which ostensibly captures the essence and vitality of a food stall in Barcelona, from her site.

There’s a mention as well of a Global Smell Map that seems to be no longer viable as it doesn’t have any info.   A later article by Henshaw as well from 2014 ‘Don’t Turn Up Your Nose at the City in Summer” focuses the nose on New York, which for her was ‘The season of smell”, where smell becomes a factor in the original city grid layout to “maximize the benefits of westerly winds to dissipate the supposedly deadly miasmas thought to spread disease…” as well as industrial pasts, even long after the smoke stacks go cold, mentioning that “In London’s Olympic Village, for example, the main stadium was built on a former industrial zone — and when it rains, locals report detecting the smell of soap seeping from the site of an old factory.”

She mentions the sociology of smell as well, mentioning external issues like waste-treatment facilities and their smelly impacts often being located in poorer areas. “Smell also provides a sociological map of the city. Poorer people tend to have less control over their smell environments.”  The experience of smell-walks and close observations of senses, provides a new way of seeing and understanding places, and although sometimes foul, Henshaw’s advice is sound:

“But don’t hold your nose. Teach yourself to parse the city’s odors and you will find a new dimension of urban experience opening up before you. Accept the olfactory.”

McLean and Henshaw, along with a cast of others also helped co-edit the recent literature on the subject in the 2018 book  “Designing with Smell – Practices, Techniques and Challenges”, which offers “case studies from around the world, highlighting the current use of smell in different cutting-edge design and artistic practices…” [with] “…an emphasis on spatial design in numerous forms and interpretations – in the street, the studio, the theatre or exhibition space, as well as the representation of spatial relationships with smell.”

As mentioned, this detour into the realm of senses and smells may seem counter to the investigation of hidden hydrology, but these examples connect the hidden to the physical world through exploration, and also provide compelling ways of using these investigations of place while presenting graphic information that is compelling, interactive, and data-rich.  Next we will dive into another sensory exploration, that of soundscapes.


HEADER: Smell Map by Kate McLean – via Medium

 

 

 

 

An interesting project from Center for American Progress, The Disappearing West “maps a rapidly changing landscape, explores what is being lost, and profiles a new movement for conservation that is gaining ground.”  The project documents both land and rivers, with an eye on the impacts of development (urban, dams, mines, and more) on these systems, and provides data and maps on their current conditions.  From a water point of view, this information provides a new level of detail on river health in the Western United states.

Through the Disappearing Rivers project, the Center for American Progress is providing the first comprehensive snapshot of the condition of Western rivers. “

The documentation is compelling, and punctuated with some fun graphics, as seen in the amount of rivers modified from their natural states, including levels of headwaters, smaller rivers and streams, and major rivers. The results are staggering. “Often portrayed as continuous lines on a map, modern-day rivers are fragmented and impaired versions of their former selves. Waterways that once supported navigation and enabled adventurers to explore the West are no longer passable in their entirety. In fact, the average length of a river in the West has been reduced by 84 percent.”  

And some of the graphics have a bit of whimsy – highlighting the impacts of dams on fish… and reinforcing what we already knew, that it is oh, so very sad that they just wait, and wait for that dam to be removed.

The maps as part of this project are the focus of what I wanted to include, as they are compelling visually.  I first heard of this project via Twitter, from a link from the mapmaker John Gage from Gage Cartographics, (via Twitter @gageCarto) who described using 400,000 flowlines from the National Hydrography Dataset to create the mapping for the entire west coast (see header image above) with layers of embedded data using the amazing suite of tools from Mapbox GL.  Stream-level data, like this snapshot of the Portland area and extent of floodplain alteration, sit on a dark background for good contrast, and shift with a gradient from red (high degrees of alteration) to blue (low degree), and highlighting the impacts of urban development on rivers and streams in a beautifully tragic way.

The same view, again of Portland, showing flow restriction, which is less problematic, but is highlighted with some key spots, interestingly enough the outflow from the Sandy River east of Portland.

Larger, thematic maps provide watershed and other coverage, including extent of floodplain alteration. As you can see from the Seattle image below, the extent of alteration of urban floodplains, not surprisingly, is greatest in urban areas, and the Salish Sea coastal areas show up to 90-100% levels of alteration.

There’s also mapping of dams by size of their capacity, again with a dark background highlighting the point data.

The map functionality allows for selecting layers and different base maps, along with extracting specific information from map elements.

The use of hover pop-ups is great as well, conveying location-specific information such as stream info, or watershed-level data for impacts in Washington like the map below showing irrigated lands.

My focus is on some northwest zones, but the project spans the entire west, and there’s also an animated tour of the Colorado River, which employs some interesting story mapping techniques.  The animated slides take you through the story of what is “…Sometimes called ‘America’s hardest working river,'” and describes the conditions that cause “…over half (54%) of the Colorado River is dammed, diverted or otherwise altered from its natural state.”  Using a number of different maps themes, views, and animations, along with text and photos, it paints a compelling story of the impacts of the river, including a major impact, dams.

There’s a ton of info, including links to download the map data as well, via a site for the Disappearing Rivers of the Western United States, which “Disappearing Rivers is the culmination of an analysis by Conservation Science Partners, in association with the Center for American Progress, to investigate how human development has altered rivers in the eleven western states. The objective of Disappearing Rivers is to quantify the degree to which human activities have altered rivers in the western US. We separated this objective into two primary components: flow alteration and floodplain alteration. The Disappearing Rivers gallery contains river and stream flowlines data with associated flow and floodplain alteration attributes.”  The site is loaded with good info, and the maps and graphics help tell a compelling story that complements the data.  The power of maps, and the overall ability to convey tons of information on easy to use, online maps, still blows me away.  Check this out – worth some time.


HEADER: Snapshot of West Coast Flow Restriction – Disappearing Rivers

A fun story about an interesting project being developed to provide a version of street view, only for rivers. From the story on knkx, “‘FishViews’ Mapping Tool Provides Virtual tours Of Local Rivers”  which announced they had “…just finished mapping its sixth Northwest river, the Stillaguamish. Other tours include Lake Washington, Lake Union, Shilshole Bay and the Locks. They’re all enabled for virtual reality headsets and you can cruise along at your preferred speed, or zoom around the panoramic images with your cursor, like you might on Google. You can even take a peek underwater. There’s definitely a “gee whiz” factor.”

From their site, FishViews aims to explore waterways and waterway data with virtual reality tours, but they also have a ton of other practical uses.  Focus areas at this point include Seattle area and some more remote locations in the Cascade Range and Olympic Pennisula, including their first, the somehwhat recently dam-free Elwha River (seen in the header above).  Additionally zones in Texas around San Antonio and Houston have also been mapped by the FishViews team.  You can access via guess account, or sign up for full access to some of the info – and other than having to sign in over and over again, I’d highly recommend losing a few hours, as it’s a lot of fun.

The interface is powered through ESRI storymap format, so has a pretty intuitive user experience of selecting through map icons or on a slider, with the ability to search as well.  Lots of these early maps focus around the Seattle.  One worth checking out is the Lower Duwamish, which encompasses the lower 12 miles of the Green River drainage, now so manipulated it lost its designation as a river and is now only “known as the Duwamish Waterway”.  Each ‘tour’ has a bit of introductory info.

Probably few have the chance to boat the 12 mile stretch of the Duwamish, and it’s telling to tour the edges and discover the massive industrialization of the entire shoreline.

And also the moments of sublime beauty, which are reflected in a similar fashion to this previous post on the Duwamish River from the book ‘Once and Future River’, such as what may be the longest waterfront facade without a window, to the industrial beauty inherent in this context.

The access to metrics is sort of an interesting take, with a variety of info available in a pop-up, such as resistivity and conductivity, dissolved solids, temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, as seen below for the Duwamish (at least when this data was being collected).

A few more shots, including the area connecting the Ship Canal to Lake Union.

And for smaller lakes, a nice coverage around the shoreline of Green Lake – also showing, similar to the beauty of Street View in capturing art – there’s some amazing shots of these aquatic resources as well.

In Portland area, they done an initial mapping of the Willamette, which is a nice tour around the city.  An option as well to have the scene data in the lower corner also provides some context – but it drives a lot like Street View.

The ability to animate by linking the frames together is not a terribly enjoyable experience – although you can adjust frame rate. Think along the lines of a boat ride with a queasy stomach,but is a nice way to tour through a route to see what it holds.  A view of the northern section of the Willamette shows this in action.

The underwater view is probably a lot more interesting in shallow water rivers and creeks, but pretty much looks a lot like this in both Portland and Seattle.

Although I was secretly hoping for robot fish, the technology for FishView’s capture technology is similar to information gathering for Street View, with a similar 360 camera rig, along with a variety of other sensors.

While the cameras are catching the views up top, they are employing some selective sub-surface cameras, as well as customized data logging equipment.  Their process also does surveying and “…collects data below the surface. We deploy leading edge sonar technology for mapping, imaging, and exploring underwater. We use EPA standards for detailed water quality assessments and HD photography for below the surface insights. All tailored to our Virtual Reality Platform.”

The company also provides these services, per their site: “FishViews offers interactive 360° virtual tours and virtual reality for aquatic resource management. We incorporate a wide variety of hydrologic survey methods in order to produce a personalized, high-quality presentation that works specifically for your waterway data survey needs. From a stand alone 360° panoramic tour, to a comprehensive virtual reality model of an entire waterway, we create virtual platforms giving hydrologic data a home, complete with a custom-designed user interface. Our individual approach will ensure all your hydrologic survey requirements are met.”

The virtual reality component also sounds interesting, with access via phone based or immersive VR goggles – probably instinctively causing one to hold their breath, at least for a second or two.  Some more coverage via GeoAwesomeness “FishViews: Mapping the world’s waterways one mile at a time”, a video from Vice News on the project, and a PDF of a story from Pacific Standard, ‘Eyes on the River‘.

The possibilities of this seems pretty intriguing.  There’s obviously a scale aspect of , but the examples from Green Lake (seen in a VR snapshot above) Lake Union, and the Ship Canal and Locks and Discovery Park shoreline are all great explorations of urban waters in a way yet to be seen – a true key to unlocking some hidden hydrology.

And thanks to @pugetpeople for the tip on this one!


HEADER:  Screenshot of Fishview map of Elwha River – via KNKX

I tweeted a bit back that I’m reading the book Rivers Lost, Rivers Regained: Rethinking City-River Relations, and so far it hasn’t disappointed.  More info for sure on some of the great content on cities and rivers forthcoming. However, an intriguing  concept mentioned in the intro was the Japanese concept of shin-sui, which the authors loosely define as “playing with water”.  They mention these in an overall trend of cities refocusing on their urban rivers, and specifically of ways to encourage people reconnecting with these urban waterways. The authors bring up urban waterfront parks, and mention these “shin-sui” parks as a way of connecting with natural processes:

” “Although these projects were conducted for recreational rather than ecological purposes, they helped to turn people’s eyes back to nature.”  (18)

Translation being a tricky thing, there’s multiple meanings that emerge when one starts digging into the concept of shinsui (and someone with a grasp of Japanese beyond my total lack thereof please correct me).  Online definitions, include water references, summarily – flood, fuel & water, inundation, as well as having meanings for adoration, cooking, salary.

Another reference in a book that popped up in a Google search, Japan for Kids, has a great way of describing the parks a friendship: “A new concept in neighborhood playground is a ‘shinsui park.’  Shinsui means literally ‘to be friendly with water.’ A shinsui park is one with plenty of water attractions that provide children with a chance to get use to water by playing in it.” (127)

The designs for these transcend the mere “splash play” or water park, but do share some of the same elements of interactivity and immersion.  Owing to the diversity of density of Japanese cities, they are often narrow, but it does show the potential for even abstracted water courses to co-exist with urbanization.

Otonashi Shinshi Park is one of these very urban examples, located in the northern area of Tokyo and literally wedged in a channel between development.  You get a feel for the scale and elements, in this case a high-walled channel that opens up to some more interactive and tactile elements.

A little more lush version from photographer Andy Serrano is found at Oyokogawa Shinsui Park, which he describes: “The park runs alongside the Oyoko-gawa River in the Sumida Ward of Tokyo, and is a popular place for local residents who play, walk, fish, and even swim there. With the Tokyo Sky Tree looming nearby, cherry blossom season gives visitors a taste of Japan’s dual natures: historic traditions side-by-side with ultra-modernity, natural beauty next to futuristic technology and architecture.”

The Tanada Shinsui Park on the Houzuyamma River in the village of Toho in Fuuses some vernacular elements to create a “River pool…for the infant and elementary school children [and the] …”Koinobori pool” river pool is a pool that uses the difference in height of the rice terraces.”

Another urban example is sculptural pools of the Arima River Shinsui Park near Kobe, Japan, which is located near Arima Onsen, one of the oldest hot springs locations in the country.

As mentioned, these few examples I’ve show are not about restoration, and vary from just parks by the river to ones with active recreation elements focused on water.  While natural edges occur, many are somewhat channellized, highly designed and very abstracted river environments — akin the art-side of the conceptual continuum of restoration.  The goal here is more recreational, but, as the editors of Rivers Lost mention, they may provide a powerful precedent for engaging people of all ages with their natural waterways, and informing urban residents on the natural processes

 


HEADER: Otonashi Shinsui Park – Tokyo, via Japan by Web

“Day Zero” is the tag line for troubling news from Cape Town, South Africa. The term marks April 21st, which is when they expect the city to run out of drinking water. A story from January 18th, via PRI’s The World, Cape town could be the first major city in the world to run out of water‘ offers some perspective.  Listen below:

There has been water rationing efforts for some time, and the news isn’t new, but the  including.  After ‘Day Zero’, residents will have to get water from city collection points, where they are limited to 25 liters per day.

A dashboard from the City of Cape Town provides information on efforts to combat the .  It also confronts with the harsh reality – as of writing this on 01/30, the date of Day Zero had been moved up to April 16th, five days earlier that originally estimated, along with an announcement that “Level 6b water restrictions are in effect from 1 February, which requires all to drop their daily use to 50 litres pp/day or less.”  

For some context, 50 liters is a little over 13 US gallons, which in terms of daily usage is quite low, for instance a page from Water Science School of the USGS estimated that average daily usage is around 80-100 gallons per person, and that a shower can use from 2-5 gallons per minute.  How long will 13 gallons last, when you also must use that for drinking water, cooking, and other daily necessities.

A post from today via The Map Room, provides some visual to accompany this, linking the NASA Earth Observatory, which includes this animate map, with a description from the site: “The animated image at the top of the page shows how dramatically Theewaterskloof has been depleted between January 2014 and January 2018. The extent of the reservoir is shown with blue; non-water areas have been masked with gray in order to make it easier to distinguish how the reservoir has changed. Theewaterskloof was near full capacity in 2014.”

The rapid depletion is driven by what’s been termed a 1000 year drought, which is also amplified by more development.  The cycle of reservoir levels at the dams show this trend since 2013.

There are new technologies being attempted, such as increasing capacity of dams, drilling to tap new aquifers, and desalination plants, all of which won’t be online in time to avert Day Zero, and come with costs that some are balking about, but could help future issues.  PRI also mentions some strategies employed beyond conservation, such as rainwater harvesting .

An article from March 2017 explored similar topics, via The Conversation “Stormwater harvesting could help South Africa manage its water shortages.” discusses strategies “ to adapt to and mitigate water insecurity threats,” including stormwater harvesting from building roofs, stored using ponds, which “can improve water security and increase resilience to climate change in urban areas. It can also prevent frequent flooding and provide additional benefits to society – such as creating amenities and preserving biodiversity.”

An image of one of these projects above shows the holding capcity and amenity. They seem small compared to the massive Cape Town reservoirs which collectively hold over 400 million cubic meters of water, but studies show that collectively “stormwater harvesting had the potential to reduce the total current residential potable water demand of the catchment by more than 20% if the stored stormwater was used for purposes like irrigation and toilet flushing.”  There are also residual benefits including value from amenity value, property values, and flood reduction.

COULD LOST RIVERS BE THE ANSWER?

Could the buried springs and creeks provide a supplemental source for drinking water to combat the Day Zero?  As far back as 2013 is an article from Cape Times entitled ‘Cape’s spring water wasted‘, which discusses the work of Caron von Zeil, and Reclaim Camissa “a project that uncovered and documented the vast amount of fresh water that flows underneath Cape Town.”  Identifying the springs and streams that have been paved over potentially provides opportunity to capture drinking water to supplement shortages.

From the article: “Von Zeil’s archive research showed that historically there were 36 springs in the City Bowl. She has uncovered 25 springs and four underground rivers. The City of Cape Town has only 13 springs on their records. Parliament is sitting on two springs and a huge underground reservoir.”

The above photo via their Facebook page is captioned: “This is NOT a riool (sewer) – 8.8million litres of Water flows through here to the ocean on a daily basis…lost to nature and humanity. This is HYDROCIDE.” which gives a taste of the tone.  This strong advocacy they attempt to raise awareness, coupled with  pilot projects, Reclaim Camissa such as a proposal called Field of Springs, which “was to be based on vacant council land in Oranjezicht where several springs were located. It would harness the spring water and be an outdoor water museum with natural ponds where people could see the water being cleansed. It would have an outdoor laboratory, education centre, bird hide and a bottling system where offices that used large glass water coolers could tap into the spring water.”

Von Zeil gave a TEDxCape Town talk in 2011 discussing Reclaim Camissa.  Via the intro it explains that “CAMISSA, meaning ‘the place of sweet waters’ is the ancient Khoi name for Cape Town. Embedded, lost and obscured within the city’s fabric this vital ecological and cultural link still exists….  The vision is one of a genuinely progressive dual water management strategy that offers opportunities for new models to transform the future wellbeing of the city into an equal society for all people; and allows for public integration and education through the recreational use of the system.”

Check out the full talk here:


On a related note, those locals can tour some of these sites via a web app “Cape Town’s Secret Tunnels and Lost Rivers“.  A summary: “Join Matt Weisse on a leisurely walk through the city, following in the path of the old underground rivers and tunnels to the Castle of Good Hope. Parts of the underground Canals and Rivers date back to 1652. They used to supply the passing ships with fresh water. Later these rivers became pleasant walkways shaded by Oaks with bridges going over them. As the years passed and the city expanded they were eventually covered up and forgotten.”

The app provides a map with audio clips of key sites, can’t vouch for the 5.99 price tag, but seems like a cool idea.


HEADER: Image of the ‘Cape Town’s main water supply from the Theewaterskloof dam outside Grabouw, Cape Town, South Africa’ (From the AP, retrieved from Spokesman.com)

 

A recent announcement that the Department of Interior is planning a massive reorganization has received a bunch of attention.  While Secretary Zinke has done a number of dubious things in his short time at Interior, this one at least, having some origins based on the concepts of John Wesley Powell, initially made me pause to consider if it may have merit.  If you can stomach watching Zinke talk for over five minutes, the video from DOI explaining the move is here. Or you can read this, where I first read about the concept, via an article Outside Magazine:  “Ryan Zinke’s Watershed Plan Is 140 Years Too Late”  To summarize the background:

“The latest object of the interior secretary’s affection is John Wesley Powell. A Civil War veteran who lost his right arm at the Battle of Shiloh, Powell is best known as a geologist and geographer who led expeditions in the American Southwest, including the first documented float down Grand Canyon. Those travels inspired Powell, in an 1878 report, to recommend the West be settled in a fashion that would organize the desiccated territory by watershed. Doing so, he argued, would make for a more collaborative and ecologically sound way of managing resources, especially in a region where the most precious resource is water. “

This basin map, seen below from an old NPR story about “The Vision of John Wesley Powell“, shows the “Map of the Arid Region of the United States showing drainage districts, 1890-91”, which is the impetus mentioned by Zinke, and explained per the article: “In 1878, Powell published his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region, which laid out a concrete strategy for settling the West without fighting over scarce water. Powell wanted to stall the waves of homesteaders moving across the plains and mountains. Instead, he wanted to plan settlement based in part on the cooperative model practiced in Utah by Mormon settlers, who tapped mountain snowmelt and the streams, lakes and rivers it created with irrigation ditches leading to crops. Powell wanted to organize settlements around water and watersheds, which would force water users to conserve the scarce resource, because overuse or pollution would hurt everyone in the watershed. Powell believed this arrangement would also make communities better prepared to deal with attempts to usurp their water.”

While some see it as pure politics, and view it with skepticism, others acknowledge some merit. Per Outside: ““Intellectually, the idea of organizing more in terms of the landscape in the West—that works,” says John Freemuth, executive director of the Cecil D. Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. “But the devil is in the details. The damage that could be done to relationships and how agencies do business, that doesn’t look like it’s been well thought out yet.”  There is mention of the complications of the current water system, where far away water is transported hundreds of miles to other locations, which perhaps makes basin boundaries obsolete, and is antithetical, in essence to Powell’s original notions, (thus the ‘too late’ tagline). As mentioned. ““For Powell, the water would not be taken out of the watershed or out of the basin and transferred across mountains…hundreds of miles away to allow urban growth to take place,” Donald Worster, a Powell biographer, told NPR in 2003. “So L.A., if it existed at all, would have been a much, much smaller entity. Salt Lake City would be smaller. Phoenix would probably not even exist.”

The Washington Post also weighed in, mentioning on January 10th the “Interior plans to move thousands of workers in the biggest reorganization in its history”, and some of the implications of “the largest reorganization in the department’s 168-year history, moving to shift tens of thousands of workers to new locations and change the way the federal government manages more than 500 million acres of land and water across the country.”  In short, the “…proposal would divide the United States into 13 regions and centralize authority for different parts of Interior within those boundaries. The regions would be defined by watersheds and geographic basins, rather than individual states and the current boundaries that now guide Interior’s operations”.

Skeptics are probably right to wonder if this is an effective change, but some of the criticism of it being hard to do, moving offices, costs, issues like splitting states into two zones sort of miss the point, if the goal is a broad basin-specific planning mechanism.  The concept that there’s a political agenda is obvious, and some of the talk of this being a covert way of downsizing government and eroding the mission are valid.  Other criticisms, such as removal of Bureau of Indian Affairs offices, as mentioned in the article are more troubling.  As quoted: “This proposal is concerning because it appears to eliminate the Navajo Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” said  Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). “A change of this magnitude should only come after extensive, meaningful government-to-government consultation with the affected tribes.  On its face, this looks more like a dismantling than a reorganization.”

Environmental groups as well echo the idea that it may seem ok on the surface, but is at it’s root political.  As quoted: ““A regional approach to managing Interior might indeed make sense, but the jury is out on this reorganization,” Sharon Buccino, senior director for lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an email. “Virtually everything Secretary Zinke has done to date has been to advance fossil fuel interests — above the stewardship of our public lands, preservation of wildlife and protection of clean air and water.””

It’s dubious whether this would happen, but there’s some intriguing notions it brings up, perhaps in a less divisive political climate, as to where this could actually be beneficial.  The Washington Post article linked to the overlay of current bureau configurations and the proposed idea of ‘Common Regions’, as mentioned.  The patchwork of overlaid jurisdictional boundaries would obviously be a change, but fundamentally there’s some wisdom (perhaps Powell’s wisdom) at work in thinking about this

Whether it goes anywhere is dubious, as it’s an interesting idea wrapped up in massive government reorganization that brings with it so much baggage as to sink it before it starts. As Outside concludes, “Perhaps it’s best to think of Zinke’s watershed-based West as a thought experiment.”   Or possibly, it’s a question of being too soon, and that a more thought-out approach could possibly be implemented over the course of the next decade to address concerns but keep it from just being that unrealized concept.

BEYOND POLITICS

I’ve long been a proponent of the concept of transforming political boundaries more in line with hydrological ones, as the idea of connecting choices made with the impacts to watersheds, first presenting the concept in a presentation at the 2006 National ASLA Conference.  The genesis of the idea is the that these basins and watersheds are nested systems, with larger units encompassing many smaller elements, and in turn being encompassed by larger systems. The idea of neighborsheds (i.e. neighborhood watersheds) involve a small scale redrawing our local boundaries using subwatersheds instead of arbitrary street or orthagonal boundaries that we currently employ.  This provides an opportunity to reimagine our local places in alignment with nature, and also helps residents understand their place at a scale that is knowable.  The connection to local flows provides a context, and the nesting systems allow one to link thier actions to the larger whole.

There are some obvious organizational structures in place that adopt this nested, such as the idea of USGS Hydrologic Units (HU) that organize elements like the Watershed Boundaries used in the National Hydrography Database.  The map below shows the largest resolution, the regional scale, of which there are 21 in the United States, know by a system of codes, or HUCs.

Some info via a really good page on Wikipedia on Hydrological Codes, this scales down from the original 21 regional HUs, to 222 subregions, 370 basins, 2,200 subbasins, 22,000 watersheds and around 160,000 subwatersheds.   The range in scale is also interesting, with a Region averaging a size of approximately 177,560 square miles, a typical basin spanning 10,000 square miles, down to 220 square mile watersheds and 40 square mile subwatersheds.  The Pacific Northwest is HU-17 expands to grab most of the Columbia River basin flowing west from the Rocky Mountains (which also reaches far up into Canada but is not shown on this map).

This breakdown the the nested scales provides a nice summary of that breakdown.

 

The Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) structure in Washington is an extension of this idea as well, with the ability to delineate a watershed focus on conservation. An image of WRIA boundaries overlaid with county lines in Washington State is instructive as to the difference between political lines drawn.

These denote the smallest HU scale of subwatershed, which as we discussed are around 40 square miles each, which is still rather large, but at least somewhat more comprehensible than larger basins. The WRIAs for the Puget Sound show the very organic structure of basin-focused districts (which is also the final scale of the Hydrological Unit map showing Subwatersheds), with the only hard-line in this case being the Canadian border to the north.

An zoomed into the smaller scale around Seattle, the two districts include WRIA 8, the Lake Washington and the Cedar River Basin, which encompasses much of the City, and the WRIA 9, the Duwamish-Green River Basin which drains the south segment of the city.  While it may complicate things as a current city and a county boundaries and require some intergovernmental agreements from many parties, the ability to isolate hydrological areas makes planning for these watersheds in terms of impacts to ecosystems much easier.  In some sense these could be a reimagined county structure by these subwatersheds, which isn’t actually a bad idea, if only as a though experiment.


The nesting could continue infinitely and get down unit you get to the smallest drainage, which could encompass a few blocks in the city.  More on this to comes as I continue to expand on the neighborshed concept. While the politicized proposal from Interior seems doomed to failure, there is some merit to these types of proposals that transcend politics and assess the concept of watershed specific boundaries in terms of thinking outside the box, and inside the basin.


HEADER:  Image of Powell’s Arid Lands Map – via Outside Magazine

 

 

As I alluded to in the previous post on smaller lakes, the large Seattle lakes provide the form and contribute to the overall sense of place. River cities are shaped differently than coastal and lake cities, and the relationship with water differs due to this morphology. In either case, any urban waterway will exist in balance with many factors of urbanization, industrialization, influencing the ecological and social connections between hydrological and other systems.

In addition, because these larger water bodies exist in tandem with anthropocentric activities, they accumulate a mix of the odd and off-beat. And while I was excited about the idea of “Searching for the Mystery Sharks of Seattle”, those particular mysteries ended up a bit further outside the realm of our local water bodies. However, in Seattle, there is still evidence of some strange things in both Lake Washington and Lake Union, worth a bit of exploration.

LAKE UNION

Starting with Lake Union, which seems to have a bit less info, this article from Seattle Magazine from 2013, “Unlocking Lake Union’s waterlogged secrets — one sunken treasure at a time” is a good overview of some of the exploration.

One endeavor is the Center for Wooden Boats and their Underwater Archeology Project, starting in 2008. A good overview of this is the form of a post from 2011 by Dick Wagner “Beneath the Waters” recounts some of the finds, including a range of boats from back into the 1880s, as well as cars, motorcycles and even a Vespa scooter.

A video ‘Shipwrecks of Lake Union: Seattle’s Hidden History” the explorations from 2012:  “This short video documents the Lake Union underwater archaeology project that The Center for Wooden Boats Founding Director Dick Wagner has been helping lead for the last several years. CWB is working with the UW’s Burke Museum, The State Department of Ecology, and others to locate and document vessels and other historic artifacts. Using the latest in underwater technology, divers and amateur archaeologists have been scouring the 40-foot-deep lake, looking at more spots where sunken vessels lie.”

The Lake Union Virtual Museum also has a nice map of a few of the wrecks on their site, clickable with some photos of some of the 100s of wrecks in the lakes (go to the link to interact)

The wreck of the J.E. Boyden, which is one of the finds of the Underwater Archaeology Project above, is located in the south part of the lake, “One of the oldest and best documented wrecks in Lake Union, the J.E. Boyden was built in 1888 and has been on the lake bottom since 1935.”

The Global Underwater Explorers Seattle group, which educates divers.  From their site:  “our exploration projects will have the ultimate goal of gathering consistent observational data and documenting the degradation or appreciation of our submerged resources over time.  Through data analysis, we aim to drive policy-changing efforts to conserve, protect and create public awareness for our submerged resources”  They also maintain Project Baseline, which is an interactive online map which displays bathymetry of Lake Union and Washington, with documentation of these wrecks as well as unknown and unexplored underway element.  The Lake Union area in whole, which also shows the lake to be quite shallow, maxing out at about 40 feet at the deepest points.

A zoom in on the south section offers some interesting underwater topography, and the information about the Boyden, with a pop-up of info.  Go to the map and check it out and you can see the distinct shape of the boat on the surface.

There’s definitely some novelty to the concept of shipwrecks, and the information appeals to a certain geeky longing that seems visceral to the water.  As summed in the Seattle Magazine article there’s more to it that that:

“The effort to record these old wrecks is not simply a matter for scuba heads or boat geeks. Lake Union is the heart of Seattle’s maritime origins; filling in the story of its transformation from a pristine natural lake to a center for industry (including sawmills, brick making and boatbuilding) to a recreation hub through photos and film is of tremendous value.”

LAKE WASHINGTON

As for Lake Washington, the significantly larger water body, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover a range of good stories and mysteries.  A 2014 KUOW Story is a good starting point: “What’s On The Botton of Lake Washington? Planes, Trains And…” hints at the diversity of subsurface elements, including planes “ Lake Washington is like a treasure trove for old plane wrecks. There are at least seven at the bottom of the Lake. They’re a frozen piece of our wartime history, a time when mock air battles raged over these waters. Midair collisions would send airplanes crashing into the lake.”

SHIPS

One there’s no shortage of, much like Lake Union, are ships, many of them either lost in accidents, or purposely scuttled.  Per the KUOW story, “…there are about 400 boats beneath the surface: ferries, barges, three Navy minesweepers, mostly in the shallower waters off Kirkland, where the Lake Washington Shipyards used to be. Now, it’s a graveyard for wrecked boats. “These are full-on, full-sized ferries on the bottom, right underneath all the yachts that are parked there now,” said diver Ben Griner, also aboard.  As for the minesweepers, one day they were docked, the next they were gone.”

For as long as there’s been water and something staring into its depths, there’s been the desire to dive in and see what’s underneath.  Overlapping with the Global Underwater Explorers (GUE Seattle), is the Maritime Documentation Society, (link is to Facebook, as their original link is bad) is one of those groups that do this on a regular basis, with a mission.  From their page, it is focused on  “exploration and documentation of existing, undiscovered, and natural historic shipwrecks. Our goal is to create public awareness and expand the wealth of history for present and future generations.”  

Some good videos are also found via DCS Films, which is ‘Dedicated to Advanced Technical Diving and Underwater Cinematography’ is a good resource to see what its like submarine, and they have some info on Lake Washington Relics.  A clip from a story from “KCPQ 13 on the artifacts of Lake Washington A joint effort of the Maritime Documentation Society, DCS Films, and GUE Seattle” offers a bit of the footage.

Similarly the afforementioned GUE-Seattle has some great info about explorations on their blog, along with the maps shown before.  Some of the stories of the dives are a fun read, to understand that equipped with a bit of info such as a general location and some scans, the fun is in exploration.  One such as this exploration of LW250, an unknown object, seen here in the bathymetric view.

And the interesting perspective of the side sonar imagery, seen below.

From the post: “We found a well-preserved wooden sailboat in good condition and it was a pleasure exploring it. As is true with most fish stories and dive stories, this was the most spectacular boat even found. It had a hole in the deck with treasures of very old bottles, ledgers of misplaced bank funds, police ID badges, a revolver, and an attaché case chained to the railing…..actually it had none of that, but it was as exciting as if it did. Just to be there on this boat that no one had ever seen was thrilling. The boat actually had a Washington state registration number and the last year sticker on the side was 1983.”

A snip of the GUE-Seattle Bathymetry shows part of the Lake (it’s a really big lake) showing a range of underwater explorations, and also the relative depths, as you see see beyond the east side tidal zones, the edge of Lake washington falls off sharply from the Seattle shoreline (on the left side of the map).

And while the shipwrecks are cool, I’m really fascinated with the bathymetric info as an interesting exploration of hidden hydrology that goes beyond creeks and rivers – especially as there was so much manipulation of the Lake levels amidst the re-plumbining of the entire region, this information provides some great clues to a history unique to a lake-shaped city.

AN UNDERWATER FOREST

My interest in this topic in general was piqued by the May 2011 KUOW story “The spooky, underwater forests of Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish”, which describes 1000 year old forests off the edges of areas of both lakes. Remnants of an 1100 year old seismic event, areas of these forests were discovered   The caption helps explain this image : ” This image is a close up of the standing timber on the south end of Mercer Island. The image is generated using a side scan sonar towed behind a boat about 20 feet off the bottom. The trees are visible mostly from the shadows they cast.

There was a video I do recall seeing, but all the links now seem to be gone.  It was bit disorienting, so aside from a glimpse of something tree-like, it was alot of darkness and blurriness, which makes one thin.  Ben Griner of Coastal Sensing who explored the Lake via sonar and underwater is, quoted in the story “…describes the drowned trees off the southern coast of Mercer Island as a thrill to swim through (although he gets not everyone would see it that way). “It’s certainly a disorienting dive,” he said. “A lot of people call it really freaky. Other people describe it as exciting and interesting.” The lake is pitch black at that depth — and being underwater can mess with one’s sense of movement. Griner said it’s sometimes difficult to tell if the water is moving or he is, and divers often bump into things.  “Because of how long the forest has been under water and how busy the lake is, most trees are just the trunks now,” he said. “It can be a little creepy, but it’s really fun to swim through the trees.”

 

From the Wikipedia page, the location of the underwater forests are located in yellow, adjacent to Mercer Island to the south, and another segment.  Per the page, the earthquake from around 900 C.E. created “The landslides on heavily wooded land created “bizarre submerged forests” of old-growth timber, preserved by the cool water and low oxygen in the deep lake.[1][5] These sunken forests were known to early European settlers of the Seattle area, for whom the snags could be a hazard to ships on the lake, and as early as 1919, nearly 200 of the sunken trees had been removed from depths of 65–132 feet (20–40 m)”

David Williams, who does his usual engagingly thorough job of discussing this topic back in 2014 on a post “What Lies Beneath – the Secrets of Lake Washington” discusses ships, and these Submerged Forests as well, explaining a chapter in the story (also mentioned in the KUOW story).

“Mostly forgotten, the trees merited public attention in the 1990s. In 1994, John Tortorelli was caught salvaging wood from the submerged forests. Unfortunately for him the state Department of Natural Resources owns the trees, plus he damaged an underwater sewer line. Found guilty of three counts of theft and three of trafficking in stolen property, Tortorelli received a jail term of three and a half years”

The post includes this map, highlighting the locations of the souther sections identified above.

COAL CAR ENDNOTE

As many discussed the other submerged worlds of ships and forests, both the KUOW article and David Williams mention coal cars on the bottom of the Lake as well.  Williams elaborates on the the eastside coal connection, which saw  a constant stream of “… coal was loaded on railroad cars at Newcastle and lowered 900 feet by tram to Lake Washington, where the cars traveled on a barge to Union Bay and then on a tram over the narrow neck of land now crossed by SR-520. A second barge carried the coal cars across Lake Union to a train (Seattle’s first) that carried the coal its final mile to a final tram, which lowered the ore down to a massive coal bunker at the base of Pike Street. It was on one of these trips across Lake Washington that the barge dropped its load of coal cars now sitting at the bottom of the lake.”  

With that frequency, the accident was bound to happen. To verify this concept, a cool shot from Coastal Sensing shows the scattered remains of perhaps these same “Coal Cars in Lake Washington Seattle.  Lost in a storm while transporting coal from Coal Creek to the small city of Seattle.” (read more about this here).


HEADER: Lake Union and Lake Washington Bathymetry – via GUE-Seattle Project Baseline Map

There are some that shape Seattle, including Lake Washington to the east (see above header image), a massive 21,500 acres of lake area and a max depth of 214 feet, draining a watershed of over 550 square miles and defines the entire inland edge of the city.  In the medium size category is centrally located Lake Union, (below) which encompasses 580 acres, a max depth of 50 ft, and a similarly larger watershed.  These, along with the Salish Sea to the west, and the Ship Canal and locks, literally form the hourglass shape of the City of Seattle and make up much of the story of the city in terms of water.

Nautical charts aside, we will have plenty more to come on these in terms of history and form, as well as some new efforts that have unlocked some mysteries hidden in their depths.  For now, In addition to these large lakes, there are a number of small lakes that dot the landscape, remnants of the glacial action, namely in the form of kettle ponds. King County has a site for Lakes Data and Descriptions, which includes both, but of particular interest is the page for Small Lakes Data and Info, which allows access to information on these lake, including some simple yet compelling bathymetric maps.   Green Lake falls into the small lake category (and also has been plagued with water quality issues.  The bathymetry shows the current shoreline, which has a lake surface of 259 acres with a contributing watershed (although no contributing streams anymore) of 1875 acres.

For a slightly different visual,this 1938 W.P.A Sanitary Survey map (via the Seattle Municipal Archives page) shows a color coded look “Showing Depth Contours of Green Lake as of 1936”.

Those familiar with the story will know that the shoreline of the lake was changed a bit around the turn of the 20th century, and the addition of the waterfowl named island by said WPA also was not an original, but more on the historic manipulation of the shoreline of Green Lake at a future date.

For now, another interesting resource on the King County Lake site charting of various lake metrics, including water quality.  As I mentioned, water quality issues, mostly in the form of toxic algae growth, have been problematic in Green Lake, with a peak issue in 2013 and a spike in 2016   Some historical data shows the situation in 2016, which shows a spike in Chlorphyll-a, which is an indicator of algae growth, and subsequent nutrient and temperature charts.

The smaller lakes in North Seattle also appear, including the smallest (yet deepest) Haller Lake, which has a surface are of 15 acres, with a max depth of 36 feet.

Bitter Lake has a surface area of 19 acres with a depth up to 31 feet.

 

 

Both are probably similar in size today as they were in the 1800s, based on the historical maps.  The land uses and while the land use has changed, also probably have similar catchment zones.  Maps on the site outline these watersheds, for instance the 331 acre drainage of the lake.  As mentioned on the site: “This map shows the area of the watershed relative to the area of the lake. Generally speaking, the larger a watershed is relative to a lake, the greater the influence land use practices on lake water quality.”

An interesting tidbit on this was discovering the amazing Lakes of Washington by Ernest E. Walcott published in the early 1960s which was the basis for much of the bathymetric info included on the King County site and other resources.  I’ll expand on at a later date, but in that vein, while outside of the city proper, the range of bathymetric maps, so I snipped a few pages out of this document, which includes lakes in King County that are part of the Lake Stewardship Program – just for a flavor of different lake forms in comparison (at least formally, as they do vary in scale) – all of which are derived from the work of Wolcott.

And if you still need your Lake Washington bathymetry fix, one I did find, for the more artistic (or looking for a gift for that special map nerd) are these fun wood fun maps (found amongst other local and national water bodies) sold on Etsy by ‘Beneath the Sail’

 


HEADER: Nautical Chart of Lake Washington