A Small-Scale Natural Disaster

| 4/11/2011 10:00:28 AM

Tags: beavers, washouts, being prepared, Cam Mather,

Like most people I watched the videos of the rushing black tsunami wave of water in Japan with terror. In some of the videos you can see people walking slowly and I just wanted to yell at the TV screen “Run! Run!” 

The nuclear disaster in Japan has taught us new terms like “double redundancy backup failures” and how quickly Mother Nature lays waste the arrogance of man’s plans. Turns out that nuclear power generating stations need electricity to keep water flowing to cool the reactors, and when these power stations have problems they need electricity from somewhere else. There’s a concept. First it’s diesel generators until the diesel runs out, or the generators are trashed by water, then it’s batteries, but they only lasted a few hours.  

Construction workers large and small can try and build systems to handle nature’s worst-case scenario, but it never seems to be enough. Just north of our home is “6th Depot Lake” which is part of the Depot Lakes system that was used by logging companies to float the winter’s timber harvest to market every spring. (This is described in a few novels, such as Michael Ondaatje’s “In the Skin of a Lion”) West of the lake there used to be a massive beaver pond, which was the size of a small lake. The size and scope of the beaver dam that held back this massive volume of water was staggering. For such small, ground-dwelling rodents, beavers can create works on a massive scale.  

Several years ago Michelle and I walked to this lake and we noticed that something was wrong. As we followed the trail of destruction to the west you could see that the beaver dam had been breached in a March rainstorm when the pond would have been at its fullest. The force of the water had basically removed everything in its path over a huge swath as it raced to lower ground. Later we were talking with the owner of the property who had seen the damage shortly after it had happened. He said that there had been an enormous pile of uprooted trees and other debris that had been swept on to the ice of 6th Depot Lake. He, too, was in awe of the force of nature.  

I can just imagine the scale of this event that wasn’t witnessed by any human. I imagine the only creatures that took notice were the beavers, cuddled up in their lodge, thinking “Oh rats! There go my summer vacation plans!” 

On Friday March 11, the same day of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, we drove to Kingston to pick up our daughter’s fiancé from the bus terminal. As we were zooming along the road not too far from our house I slammed on the brakes when I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. We got to a low spot in the road that has beaver ponds on both sides and discovered that the road was completely covered in rushing water. The water on the west side of the pond, which would normally be two feet below the road, was now rushing over the road. This was after two days of torrential rains, but the rains would not have been enough to flood this area, even with the snowmelt.

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