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09 August, 2013

It's the Watershed

Thanks to stevenl on olyblog for posting this down-Deschutes shot. He thinks the postcard dates to the mid-1970s, a time when the Olympia Brewing Company still ran strong, and was so proud of it's beige industrial sprawl they issued this image, rather than the charming old brick building.

Olympia's motto, of course, was "It's the Water," and we do have great water, our artesian wells are famous, delicious, and clean. But surface water is an other story, a sad one, as this shot illustrates.

In the foreground, the Deshutes River, in summertime flaccid flow. Could just be a dead-calm day, but I feel like there's an oil sheen. Maybe not.

As far as the river is visible, the brewery takes up the right bank. Since I'm too lazy to track it down, I don't know what they may have flushed into the river as part of normal operations, but up until about the date of this postcard, when Dick Nixon signed the Clean Water Act (what a liberal!), people and corporations did dump all kinds of things in the water. All this view shows is a treeless bank and acres of impervious surface, which when the rain kicks in will dump huge amounts of runoff compared to what the natural watershed would have, not to mention the sediment, railway grime, and other trappings of civilization.

Which the river then delivers to,...Wait, I cannot see. It disappears on the other side of the Capital Boulevard bridge, past more brewery buildings, over the spillway...I mean Falls, and finally past the old brew house, Olympia's most famous ruin. There's a park on the other bank now, and the old brewery is abandoned. You can kid yourself into thinking it's returning to nature as long as you deafen yourself to the I-5 din.

But really, the Deschutes is about to empty into Capitol Lake. Or, as stevenl calls it, the Fetid Lake Of Doom, or FLOD. Flotsam and sediment from the watershed settle out here. In fact, the muck contains the remains of Little Hollywood (Olympia's Depression-era Hoovertown), and before that a literally marginalized Chinese community, I think. The artificial lake relies on a dam that transformed the original estuary into a pond (yep, the reflection of capitol and trees sure is pretty) with a sluice being the only way out. So the estuary gets buried and eutrophies (yep, the low tides and summer algae blooms sure are ugly).

The postcard more or less hides The Isthmus, site of many a battle in this millenium. Positions on Isthmus development cause the city council to change, parts of it were Occupied, it is home to Olympia's second most famous ruin: the Mistake on the Lake. Walk around the lake, and you'll see signs explaining various positions in the Debate of the Lake: dredge it, restore the estuary, do nothing...There is no sign saying "Isthmus be Hell."

Meanwhile, the lake keeps filling with muck, and the water keeps flowing into Budd Inlet. The head of Budd is divided into West Bay, which is where the Deschutes comes in, and East Bay, which is where a culvert let's loose what's left of Indian and Moxlie Creeks. Most of the city between East and West is built on dredging spoils and fill.

West Bay is undergoing a transformation these days, as the buildings and piers of yesteryear's manufacturing concerns disappear. Some of it is undergoing restoration, as far as a railway embankment can be restored to a natural state. But people are not about to abandon the waterfront entirely, ceding it to nature. So pockets of "beach nourishment" gravel and chained-down "large woody debris" have to coexist with armored shorelines in a state that I will now call Percivaltory, after Percival's Landing on the waterfront.

In the postcard, it looks like there may be log booms in the bay. No more, although the POO (Port Of Olympia) is hopping, putting trucked-in logs on trans-Pacific ships. The watershed's wood (state timber excepted) flows all the way to China. 

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