From the floods, a watershed of wonder

photo: Wikicommons

by Amy Martin

“A river is a river… always changing and always on the move. And over time the river itself changes too. It widens and deepens as it rubs and scours, gnaws and kneads, eats and bores its way through the land.” ~ Aidan Chambers, This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn

The Trinity River, a sinewy stream in a prairie swale — until the rains come. Floodwater courses between the banks and rails against levees that dare to tell the river how to run. With each storm the river swells, reservoirs fill, embankments groan. Even after the rains cease, water that fell hundreds of miles away continues its resolute route to the sea, each storm crest a wave sluicing its way to union, sometimes taking a large chunk of the land and its residents with it.

“A riverbank home is a dream come true… until times like these.“ ~ Blanco River resident in Wimberly

Record-setting rains inundated North Texas, El Nino-driven fronts colliding with warm Gulf air over and over again for most of May. As much water in one month as we usually get in six. With the extensive visual coverage, especially by aerial cameras, residents became aware as never before of the rivers with which they intimately coexist. People whom rarely gave their bioregion much thought were brought to the truth that we live in a water matrix of immense power over which we have scant control.

“I’ve been flooded out of my business for days. It’s stopped raining, but I still can’t go back. Something about Lake Lewisville, as I’m learning.” ~ Dallas small-business owner

The watershed where we live is our blood tie to the world. To rest your hands in the river is to touch all waters. Every drop of rain that falls, that wafts as fog or drifts as snow, obeys its own Continental Divide. Whether it drips into the driveway and on to the gutter, or caresses the leaves of a creek-side tree, water must flow in direction or another, choosing one tributary or another as its own personal divide. Until at last it unites with either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, only to evaporate and be reborn as rain and weather.

In Dallas, Tarrant, and counties to the north, our watershed is the Trinity, powerful for its fusing of three rivers into one. The West Fork arises from the arid plains and asserts itself over the short, meek Clear Fork, joining just west of downto800px-Trinity_Watershedwn Fort Worth. Damned river sections create reservoirs — Benbrook, Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain, and others — that fill and release their floodwaters into the flow.

As the first of the Trinity triad, the West courses eastward toward Dallas, into weather that is wetter. The river becomes wider in return and submits itself to straight manmade embankments. On the edge of Irving it merges into the second fork, the Elm, with its massive dammed lakes of Ray Roberts and Lewisville. In epic storms as these, they too swell and periodically release their excess, flooding the river below.

This cascading web of stormwater pulsates into Dallas with a roar, squeezed into straight levees that pressurize it like a hose. Once past downtown, the Trinity is allowed to regain its natural meanders, sprawling into the Great Trinity Forest and flooding neighborhoods nearby. On the county’s southeastern outskirts, the third fork, the East, itself overflowing from Lavon and Ray Hubbard reservoirs, finds watery embrace with the southbound flow. They become simply the Trinity, bound for the Gulf of Mexico.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” ~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

We are all downstreamers, impacted by life upstream. Our fates rise and fall with the river as it runs. Immerse yourself in the great flow of our planet’s water matrix. Step beyond shelter and allow the next storm to wash you down. Walk in the rain, hear the call of your watershed, and discover your own continental divide.


map: Wikicommons