A fascinating history of hidden hydrology (of a sort) are the mysterious infrastructure traces often in plain sight. We may do a double take, or wonder about some random pattern on the surface, but often dismiss this as legacies of historical cycles of building and erasure.  Those on the lookout and with an inquring spirit may discover, if you’ll pardon the pun, a deeper story.

A recent article in May 2017 from CityLab shows “The Sublime Cisterns of San Francisco”,  and offers some clues to the origins, namely “Subterranean vats were an emergency response to the city being repeatedly and savagely burned to the ground.”  The circles exist at a number of intersections throughout the city, noted with a circle of brick or stone.

“To date there are 170 to 200 of the tanks stashed around town—the city’s numbers vary quite a bit—functioning as emergency watersources apart from the water mains and suction stations pumping saltwater from the Bay.”

The first reference to this urban feature traces back to the always prescient Burrito Justice, who first unlocked the story in 2011, in a post link “Cole Valley Alley Solves Cistern Mystery”, and expanded on this in the 2013 post “What’s Underneath Those Brick Circles”, both of which highlight the origins of the stone circles, some dating back as far as the 1850s.

The original Cole Valley Alley post got some info from the SF Department of Public Works, including the “original 1909 plans for the 75,000 gallon cistern on Frederick & Shrader”

The original CityLab post links to a few more pics from Robin Scheswohl/San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, showing the amazing interior of these spaces:

The CityLab article also mentions the map by Mapzen’s John Oram (Burrito Justice himself), who built a fantastic interactive map of the cisterns available here – a few screenshots of which are found below – which reveals more info when zoomed in, such as location and size.

Another mapping project mentioned is by artist Scott Kildall, as part of his more expansive Water Works project, focused some energy on creating a Map of San Francisco’s Cisterns here.

A model of cisterns as well.

The randomness of these traces is also interesting, with juxtapositions outside of the formal symmetry but off-grid and partially obscured, such as this image. via Kildalls site, where you can read more about his project

Cistern at 22nd and Dolores – via kildall.com

The significance of fire that created this system of cisterns that folks are discovering is driven by several major fires in the 1850s.  Thus the distributed reservoirs have been installed since the original founding of the City, seen in a key plan from July 1852 – from Burrito Justice (linking to a David Rumsey map of San Francisco 1853) and identifying intersections where these existed.

The fires culminated in the most notable fire is the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake, discussed in this April 2017 CityLab story “The Ultimate Photo Map of the 1906 San Francisco Quake” which identifies photographs documenting the event.

Market Street on fire. Looking east to the Ferry Building from Fremont Street, April 18, 1906. (Willard E. Worden photograph. Glass negative courtesy of a private collector).  via Open SF History

Quoting Woody LaBounty from this Open SF History Post “Rise of the Phoenix: A Closer Look:

“One hundred and eleven years ago, in the early morning of April 18, San Francisco shook and trembled through a massive earthquake. Stone buildings shed their skins. Chimneys and brick walls collapsed on streets and adjoining buildings. Roadways split and sunk. People were gravely injured or killed by crumbling boarding houses, apartments, and warehouses…

The disaster became much worse as fires broke out from the Embarcadero to Hayes Valley and, aided by wind and inept attempts to create fire breaks with explosives, joined into larger maelstroms that gobbled up almost 500 city blocks of cottages, factories, tenements, hotels, stores, banks, and government buildings over the next three days.”

The extent of the fire is captured in this view from Oakland, via CityLab, showing “A view of the San Francisco earthquake’s aftermath from Oakland” (Credit – Oakland Museum of California)

There’s a pretty extensive history of the SF Fire Department via the SF Museum site (published in 1925) for some historical perspective and some illustrations of these early 1850s fires.

The City of San Francisco Fire Departments page drops a link to the cisterns as well as a video via the exploratorium, ‘The Science of Firefighting: Cisterns’ which has some FD folks “discuss the history and function of these cisterns, and demonstrate the drafting procedures used to access the water.”

Header image via Burrito Justice.

I posted some amazing images last year of changing course of the Willamette River captured with LIDAR, evoking wisps of smoke leaving a palimpsest of tracings across the landscape.  A recent article from National Geographic’s site ‘All Over the Map‘ entitled ‘See the Strange, Beautiful Landscapes Revealed by Lasers‘ reminded me of the beauty of this digital technique, showcasing some additional regional imagery and including hydrology and geology, this time focused in the State of Washington.  A few of the images included:

The Quinault River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has meandered extensively in the past, leaving behind dry, abandoned stream channels filled with river sediment that are revealed by LIDAR.
Channels in northwestern Washington formed when melting glaciers caused major floods. The channels are highlighted near the center of this LIDAR image.

The images are beautiful and intriguing, owing to the ability of LIDAR to penetrate vegetation layers to reach surface levels often unseen with traditional methods.  The beautiful imagery in the article is from the Washington Geological Survey site ‘The Bare Earth’ which is a descriptive resource on “How lidar in Washington State exposes geology and natural hazards”.

While useful for many types of analysis, this is particularly important to identification of landscape hazards, which had devastating impacts in 2014 in Oso, a town north of Seattle, and you can see some of the images highlighting landslide activity in the region.

A landslide covered with vegetation near Deming, Washington is revealed with LIDAR.
Old landslide scars on the Cedar River near Seattle are normally obscured by forest, but are plainly visible in this LIDAR image.

The most intriguing image to me was the Mima Mound Natural Area Preserve, which I hadn’t known about before reading this, which look much like a magnification of dermis instead of earth.

The mysterious Mima Mounds near Olympia, Washington are beautifully exposed in this LIDAR image. The origin of these mounds, which are 6 feet tall and 30 feet wide on average, is unclear and has been attributed to gophers, insects, wind, earthquakes, and the shrinking and swelling of clays.

The landscape itself is subtly rolling like an earthworks art project, and the reasons for their form is up for debate, as seen in the caption above.  The landscape itself is subtle and beautiful, definitely motivated to take a trip down to Olympia.

The pages on the great context on how LIDAR works with a story map of some visuals along with descriptive illustrations.  Per the WGS site,

“Lidar (light detection and ranging) is a technology that uses light pulses to collect three-dimensional information. Lidar data is often collected from an airplane using a laser system pointed at the ground. The system measures the amount of time it takes for the laser light pulses to reach the ground and return. Billions of these rapidly-collected measurements (points) can create extremely detailed three-dimensional models of the Earth’s surface. See the diagram below to better understand how airborne lidar is collected.”

A breakdown of the different maps that be extracted from the process.

The beauty of LIDAR is the ability to give an alternative view that is impossible to capture in other ways, particularly in deeply vegetated sites, with lots of coniferous vegetation. Again, from The Bare Earth site: “In geology, lidar bare-earth models allow closer study of geomorphology, which is the study of the origin of the topography of the earth. Landslides, faults, floods, glaciers, and erosion leave their mark on the landscape, and while these marks can be hidden by dense vegetation, they can’t hide from lidar.”

Harkening back to the previous posts of the geology of Seattle, the glacial retreat was a major factor in the Seattle-area geology and current hydrology.  The image below shows an aerial image, which reveals little of this feature, but the Lidar image shows the directional scarring and drumlin deposition around Hood Canal in sharp relief.

LIDAR shows the landscape around Hood Canal, a fjord in the Puget Sound, which is filled with elongated, rounded hills known as drumlins that were left behind by glaciers.

A video as well elaborates on the technique:

Check out more of Betsy Mason and Greg Miller at All Over the Map and follow them on Twitter @mapdragons

Header image, like many of the other images in the post, is from Washington Geological Survey, via National Geographic,.  The header shows “The floodplain and dry, former channels of the Chehalis River in western Washington State are revealed by this LIDAR-based elevation map.”

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.

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.