Unintended Consequences

Once was, in the dear dead days beyond recall, periodic forest fires swept areas of Connecticut and the forest litter turned into alkaline ash and smoke.  This is, was, and will be, perfectly natural.

Today most forest fires are extinguished promptly and so leaf litter and dead wood accumulates.  Rain and melting snows move much of this litter, mostly acidic maple and oak fallen leaves to paved streets, and eventually to storm sewers.  Much ends up in lakes, streams, rivers and estuaries, but dams and impoundments are in the way.  They slow the flow.

Additionally, loads of fallen leaves which, traditionally, had been burned in autumn are not now burned, but too often they are dumped  (perhaps by the light of the moon) into moving water.  The people who do this are doing it to save money, avoiding air pollution, and saving us from global warming, and so they can feel good all over.

Concurrently, waterfront and waterview real estate brings a premium, and the long sloping lawn down to the water makes a property even more valuable.  Nothing now catches the leaf litter and extra fertilizer.

Also,  impounded water for recreation, power, and waterfront real estate encourages dams that then slow stream velocity and give suspended leaves more time to get water logged and to sink and pile up behind the impoundments.  Still another nail in the coffin.  Freshets no longer flush stream beds.  There is a cumulative effect on our environment.  Rivers, lakes, bays, estuaries and tidal ponds are overloaded with nutrients.  There is now too much for Mother Nature to digest.  There is now not enough oxygen to perform natural anaerobic digestion.

Mother Nature responds by natural anaerobic (without oxygen) digestion, a slow, smelly and poisonous process.  Most aquatic plants and animals are functional only in an oxygen system.  So they die or swim away if they can.  Tim Visel at the Sound School explains this in great detail.  What the passerby sees is commonly know as “black mayonnaise.”  This is a soft stinking accumulation on the bottoms of slow moving water of things that fire or oxygen-rich water would have mitigated.  “Dead” areas in Long Island Sound are also a result of anaeroebic conditions.

Yes, we know how to get rid of it but to make that happen, someone’s ox will get gored.  Will it by yours?