Notes from the Flood

It only rained twice during June! Once for 10 days and once for 20 days. – Facebook post.

On Memorial Day, we went canoeing on the Sangamon River. And then came the rains. The next day, according the Fisher Gage, the Sangamon rose 6 feet to over 12 feet in a day (not an unusual occurrence). Thus started the rainiest June in history!  (Facebook again)

One of the places where the depth of the Sangamon River is officially monitored is the Fisher Gage (yes, I spelled that right). The monitoring station is located where the Sangamon crosses under US Highway 136 near Fisher. You can have a look at the Fisher Gage on the USRC’s website here:

The website displays a line graph charting the Sangamon’s changes in depth in real time several times during the course of a day.

According to the graph, the beginning of June was like the beginning of a summer roller coaster ride. At one point – curiously enough – the line on the chart bore an amazing if eerie resemblance to the rotund profile of Alfred Hitchcock. But I digress.

Ideal paddling conditions are above 5 feet (but it’s floatable lower) and up to about 9 or 10 feet (but it’s floatable, by the more experienced, higher).

At around 12 feet, the river tops its banks and enters into the floodplain.

By the first weekend in June, the river had dropped back down again to a healthy 7 feet for a scheduled USRC float trip. Some new paddlers to the river were joining us, and despite being rained on and thunderstorms perpetually threatening nearby, we all had a good time, and I got the last column out of it. It’s nice to go down river when the river is higher than normal: stronger current and much of the “woody debris” (aka: fallen trees) is covered by water.

Then came still more rain.

My backyard drops down several feet into the Sangamon’s floodplain and I’ve cleared a nice little recreation area there with a fire circle, a horseshoe pitch, and a bright red Adirondack chair sitting on the bank of the river near my steps that provide easy river access. Normally there are about 8 or 9 steps down the steep bank to the water’s edge.

The morning after that float trip (after the rain), the river was lapping at our chairs. I pulled the canoe, kayak, life jackets and paddles I had left down there up the trail leading to the house perched high above and safely away from the water, thinking it might keep rising.

I left our red plastic Adirondack chair down by the river. I was leaving for work, and I was in a hurry and besides, plastic Adirondack chairs don’t float. Do they?

When I got back home from work, I saw only the back of our Adirondack (but at least it was still there) and the top couple inches of my horseshoe stakes.

Then came more rains.

The next day, the Adirondack was either covered or gone and the water was probably a foot or so deep at my fire circle. The cut up brush I had painstakingly piled up there was already gone, presumably floated downriver. Then came still more rains.

The next day, it cleared up, but the river kept climbing. Now it was in the 15 foot range at the Fisher Gage, and I pulled my kayak and canoe further up the hill.

Interesting fact: the Fisher Gage also measures flow and around June 10, the Sangamon’s flow topped 2,000 cubic feet per second. At that rate, and at 7.5 gallons per cubic foot, the Sangamon is moving 15,000 gallons of water per second downstream. Which translates to about 1.3 billion (yep, I said billion) gallons of water per day. Take that, California! (I bet you wish you could…but who said rivers were fair?)

Anyway, I took the kayak out after work that day. I paddled up Crooked Creek which runs parallel to my house. It was more like a lake. We had done “Riverwatch” stream monitoring several weeks before where I was now paddling and then we couldn’t even measure a perceptible flow in the trickle of the creek. Now that spot was two or three feet below me.

I went out into the river, crossed over and paddled through the forest, past our wood duck boxes and through the stinging nettle (which is way better than walking through it). I was headed upriver through the woods, then I turned out into the main channel for a quick trip back home and a nice ride.

After that, the river did recede a few feet, but then came the mosquitoes. The kind that drinks Deet for an aperitif before settling their stinger in for an unlimited supply of my Type O negative. They relish the challenge of drilling through Levi’s denim for their next fix. And they were swarming.

The river went back down for another float trip we had scheduled on June 20. Still in the 12 foot range, it was almost gone from my backyard, and I could see nearly all of my horseshoe stakes again. However, it did leave behind a few inches of gooshy river muck, which the boaters had to trudge through (along with fighting a gauntlet of mosquitoes) before loading up.

Unfortunately, our red plastic Adirondack chair was now gone. And we had just bought it at Aldi for $14.99, a real deal, I thought. Oh well. At least it wasn’t a canoe and kayak.

I went downriver on Father’s Day morning, with the river height about 11 feet and it was a thrill. It turns out if you can run the gauntlet of mosquitoes along the banks of the river, they don’t bother you at all when you’re out there on it. No sign of my Adirondack chair though. I had hoped.

Now it’s June’s end and the rains continue. At least the dragonflies have now come to our rescue by beginning to thin the mosquito hordes somewhat.

As of this writing, the river remains above 14 feet at the Fisher Gage and is heading up again towards 15. With more rain in the forecast.

But on a brighter note, at Aldi, the plastic Adirondack chairs are marked down to $8.99!

See you on the river! (after I get back from Aldi)

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, July 2, 2015, by Scott Hays

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