Major floods

by Leon Archer

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the wildlife in a stream or river when they are flooded over their banks by rains like those that have been creating havoc around Oneida and points south east?

Looking at the pictures of the coffee brown water flooding streets, inundating homes and vehicles, while carrying vast amounts of debris and mud, we quickly become aware of the damage to land and property.

What we don’t see is what is happening to the communities and residents that call the streams and rivers their home.

The mud that we see left behind on land creates a mess that has to be scraped and scooped up and then transported to a landfill or field. The remnants get hosed away into storm sewers which direct the offending goo back to area streams in many cases.

The streams get it coming and going when major floods hit them. Normal rains are a welcome event for fields and streams, but just because an ecological community resides either in or around the water doesn’t make it immune to damaging effects of flooding any more than we are.

At first, a heavy rain invigorates the fish, insects and shellfish that live in a stream, but the rising water always increases the strength of the stream flow, which is great for some of the denizens, but not so good for others.

A torrent moves dead  wood  downstream, wood that has been trapped for some time and supports all sorts of life from microscopic to large insect nymphs. It also displaces rocks and rearranges the shape and size of pools.

This stirring of objects large and small casts all sorts of food into the reach of trout and other fish. They can often gorge themselves on insects that had pretty well been safe from them before.

A normal heavy rain is actually good for the life of a stream even though it may cost some of the prey critters dearly. I always thanked the good Lord for every heavy summer rain that hit the Sandy Creek area when I was a boy, because it meant great fishing in Little Sandy for at least a couple days. Trout’s natural caution was overcome by the abundant food in the water and the cloudiness hid the fish from the view of predators.

However, the kind of rains that the state has been experiencing in some locations presents a difficult time for streams and all their residents — even large fish.

The high water can, and often does, carry stream life far away from the stream itself and ends up depositing them where they cannot get back to the moving water that has been their home.

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