Dry run

I listed, in my previous post, the names of some of the tributaries of Pine Creek. What I did not mention then was that although this part of the world has received more than average rainfall through the month of August, many of the creeks, hollows, and runs are currently producing but a trickle. Ground water reserves, it seems, are not easily slaked. Because I am not a hydrologist, I wouldn’t know where to begin to calculate the annual water budget of an area like ours but I can tell you that bulk flow is one of nature’s most powerful forces. Evaporation, condensation, and transpiration draw moisture from the soil and from oceans and lakes and up into the atmosphere, precipitation returns it to Earth, and gravity and capillary action draw moisture down into the soil and then deeper to contribute to ground water. Such reserves feed the water table which is exposed to the atmosphere, and the cycle begins again. What has always amazed me is how water, its availability and its level of reserve, cycles through the year in a fairly predictable way. The countless and interconnected parts of our biosphere are delicately balanced such that the water table is rarely overflowing. Plants and animals use what they need and tributaries drain the hills of surplus. Although we may like to think, perhaps because of the often deep contours they have carved, that tributaries flow all of the time, many do not. And so it is that this lengthy preamble explains both the title to this post and the image below of the dry bed of Elk Run just above its confluence with Pine Creek. I have always been struck by the balance of nature and worry about human influence and impacts. Perhaps many of you know of hydraulic fracturing and its demonstrated effects on local geology and hydrology, not only here in Pennsylvania, but around the country. The gas industry has surely put many of us to work and has perhaps reduced our dependence on foreign sources of energy, but at what cost? It is naive to believe that this newly applied technology will be without impacts. Unfortunately, we probably won’t know of them until it is too late.


18 thoughts on “Dry run

  1. Coincidentally, after a record-breaking (hot) July we, too, had quite a wet August. September, though, has come around nicely enough. As I write this a gentle somewhat warm breeze is blowing through the window behind me. The water comes and goes and, if many, including me, are right it will be the centre of changes (mostly bad, I’m afraid) over the next century. Global warming plus an increasingly hungry, growing population will put more stress on the available supply than it can handle. I only hope that we all don’t resort to violence to settle the issue of who gets what and how much.

    • Surely the spectre of water wars in the coming decades is not pleasant. Talk about feeling powerless to influence the future! Such large problems, needing rational and collective action NOW! Such thoughts depress me. It’s beautiful, sunny, and cool … I’m gonna go mow some lawns. D

  2. No one who lives in central or western Texas would ever think that tributaries run year-round. Although there’s no doubt that your photograph shows a watercourse (even if a dry one), it reminded me of an old Roman road like the Appian Way.

    • Hey there Steve … it didn’t occur to me that you folks out west might view my observations differently. Are you particularly dry this year? I’ve been reading all sorts of horror stories about your continuing drought. Your images, however, would suggest otherwise? D

      • It’s been on the dry side this year, but there are plenty of tributaries that stop running even in wetter years. That’s just how things are out here in the Southwest.

        Somehow I’ve always found things in nature to photograph, even in the horrible drought of 2011.

  3. I have often commented on your images of rivers and creeks – it seems revealing the ‘power of awe-inspiring water’ is really one of your specialties! This post now makes your deeper concerns explicit, and of course I could not agree more. Fracking is done in my country but it is strictly speaking not forbidden either. A national law would need to be derived from an EU law. EU legislation is lobbyists’ playground, and the lobbyists are trying hard though – they appeal to the discomfort with the dependence on gas from Eastern Europe. Unfortunately it seems the ‘fracking boom’ in the US has generally slowed down the installation of power plants using renewable energy also over here as fossil fuel has become cheaper at a global level.

    • I’m afraid your last observation is correct. The recent successes of the gas industry have lowered our demand for foreign imports and I think that has put the brakes on the development and production of renewable technologies. How short-sighted. When J and I drive through our local country side, especially a little to the North, the evidences of the gas industry are all too obvious. We really do worry about the day that drilling arrives on our doorstep. D

  4. What a beautiful image and thoughtful post. This creek bed looks like it’s been there forever, untouched by human hands. So incongruous now with a bridge and no water beneath! Love all the earthy colors of the stones and leaves … items that a certain little girl often has hands full of!

  5. You have described the hydrologic cycle pretty well, David. Although most of our brooks and streams are still running, it is at a very low flow right now. A few weeks back we had a great storm that had the waterfalls at extreme levels of flow and everything was nice and wet. But after a few days things were back to summer normal … if normal exists any longer.
    As far as fracking goes, I am more than skeptical of the claims that it is safe and a viable alternative to dwindling petroleum supplies. I am still waiting for the implosion from all the oil being sucked up from below. I know that in some cases, maybe more than some, water is being pumped below to fill the voids, but I figure that just insures us of more geysers in the future. There are always unintended consequences, and I doubt that the fissures created in the rock can be controlled and ensure that groundwater supplies will be unaffected. To be honest, I think I would have walked right by this scene and not done a thing where you have taken something ordinary and turned it into an appealing landscape. I like the way your composition, and choice of lens, pulls us through the bridge.

    • Thanks very, very much Steve. Comments which come from folks who I know I have much to learn from always mean quite a bit. J and I are very sensitive to the whole fracking-thing because of our absolute reliance on clean drinking water for the livestock. A steer can drink as much as 20-25 gallons per day, a hog comes in at 10 gallons, sheep and goats perhaps a gallon or so each … all of these figures all go up in warm weather and when dry hay is being fed during the winter months. Add to that chickens, turkeys, geese, and (of course) the working dogs and cats and you realize that our daily water budget could be as high as 1000+ gallons per day … imagine what our budgets would be if we were dairy farmers (an individual ‘milker’ can require as much as 100 gallons each day). If we lose water, or if our water should become contaminated … simply put … we’re done. Like you, Joanna worries about the ground giving way around us. I could go on with stories that you might not believe. Suffice it to say that I like my trees and I like my water. D

  6. This beautiful photo fits so well with your sobering words … they meet to create a very powerful discomfort about the way humans behave in their home, this place we call Earth. Very moving.

    • My immediate reaction to your comment M is that it is because of people like you and comments like yours that I continue to contribute to this blog. Thank you very, very much. D

        • ! No worries M ! No worries. I’ve got so little time to be out with the camera these days that my productivity is in something of a slump of which I am well aware. It drives me nuts! I’m writing something now about Colony Collapse Disorder among the Honey Bees, it’ll take another day or so … so, you see, no worries! Our temperatures were in the upper 40s this morning. My daughter called from New Hampshire last evening and said that she was anticipating temperatures in the 30s over night. How are you doing? Can you see winter on the not-too-distant horizon? D

    • Seonaid … I will reply in the very same way I did to M. Hatzel and that is by saying, ‘My immediate reaction to your comment is that it is because of people like you and comments like yours that I continue to contribute to this blog. Thanks you very, very much.’ You’ve made my evening. D

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