A Tale of Two Creeks

A Tale of Two Creeks

The drought drags on and things continue to get drier and drier and drier. It’s the first week of August and it’s a welcome treat to visit our stream sampling sites. Shady little oases of resilience, they provide respite. The air feels moist, the bushes and vines have exploded in new growth. Everything is green. The ground feels a bit spongy here, unlike the baked, hard paths leading into these sanctums. We even saw a few frogs! It’s amazing what tree cover does for a creek.

True, the creeks are lower than normal. Some are just a trickle. Stretches without trees often have stagnant pools with long strings of green or yellow algae, gently swaying in the slow current.

But what about those six millimeters of rain that had us all dancing with joy at the end of July? Did it have any effect on our local creeks? Turns out it did have a measurable effect, albeit small and transitory. Our steady, little rock-star of a creek, Mud Bay, showed a brief blip of slightly higher water and then almost immediately returned to its previous level. This makes sense since Mud Bay Creek drains a fairly small area. The total amount of water (6mm times the surface area of the watershed) is not a lot in hydrological terms, and most of it is absorbed by the dry ground rather than being channeled past our sensor. Cowie Creek, on the other hand, which had been trending downward over the course of the summer, saw a slightly larger spike in water level than Mud Bay Creek. It took almost a week before it returned to its previous level. Cowie Creek, and its tributary, Cougar Creek, drain a far larger area than Mud Bay Creek. That larger volume of water not only caused the larger spike, but it also took longer for all of the rain that fell way up in the headwaters to make its way down to our gauging station. Additionally, the headwaters of Cowie/Cougar are at a higher elevation than Mud Bay’s headwaters. It’s quite likely that there was more rainfall at the higher elevations.

This is all interesting for us as citizen scientists. However, as interesting as it may be, this data does little to alleviate the effects of drought. All we can do is continue to collect data, watch the tinder-dry hills with trepidation, and look forward to our next joyous dance of rain celebration.

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