Thursday, August 05, 2010

Log Jams: The Facts and the Folly

Remarkable bit of prophecy in the essay below (Deadly Rivers) about the expensive “engineered LWD” at Cedar Rapids on the Cedar River, where the “bundles” of logs chained together on the riverbank had started to pull loose and into the river! In spite of the fact that the County crew frantically re-chained the bundles (this time to huge cottonwoods on the bank) the whole thing blew out and headed downstream dragging their new companions (the huge cottonwoods) along. The following piece written after that fiasco tells the dangerous, potentially deadly, tale.

When this man-made “engineered LWD” monster finally hit Renton seven miles downstream, it nearly took out the Williams Street bridge. Had it tipped that bridge into the riverbed the dam it formed would have diverted the massive torrent into the entire downtown area. Casualties would have been in the hundreds. Unthinkable, but nearly the fact!

So, read LOGJAMS…FACT AND FOLLY (from Jan 2010)

So long as there have been rivers…trees…and people to be near them…the danger of logjams has been evident. Too often the result is in human terms…death and injury. Historically they have been a primary concern for agencies with responsibility to keep rivers open for public use…commerce and travel. The most important task…the safety of the public near them.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers and other local agencies have long cooperated in this effort. Until recent times it would have been unthinkable for any individual…let alone public agency… to obstruct this vital work.

In those earlier times waterways were… and remain… very important to commerce and social mobility. Where natural waterways did not exist…most known civilizations has created them…so vital have they been.

In recent years the established priority in river management has been hijacked…and the safety of the public pushed down the list of concerns. This sacrifice of safety has been driven… in great part… by well intended but myopic individuals and groups emerging from the environmental movement.

These good folk are disciples of LARGE WOODY DEBRIS (LWD)…the placement of logs and stumps and other obstructions in our rivers. They also stridently oppose removal of natural wind-falls in streams as well. The practice has been to wait until there is some injury or other before any action is taken at a site. There is clear evidence that in some cases such information has been ignored or denied by those responsible.

Their “science” is increasingly in question…but their determination undiminished.

This “science” has seldom been seriously challenged by the agencies that should …from the mighty Corps of Engineers…right on to the local public safety officials who have primary responsibility. To this point the advocates have essentially cowed the others into quiet surrender in many instances.

It should be noted here that the danger of LWD increases in proportion to the size and social utilization of streams. Many creeks and small tributaries are well suited to habitat enhancement. It is the introduction or retention of LWD in streams that see substantial daytime recreational use…especially by youngsters…that we argue clearly demands reassessment. Likewise LWD in rivers prone to flooding and destruction of settled areas need scrutiny.

Though there is some obvious importance to logs and stumps and brush…as habitat in river systems… twenty plus years of virtually unfettered dangerous experimentation with this policy in streams where it clearly is not safe...has not produced significant improvement in fish populations. It also must be noted that large woody debris…installed or natural…for as much as it may have habitat value…can be located and maintained far more safely than has been the case in these “experiments”.

It is undisputed that danger to people….especially children…has been time and again demonstrated. Death and injury are regularly reported. Yet no effectively focused challenge has born on this matter. Around the region concerned individuals and groups have been allowed to “comment” on the matter…but …in venues controlled by the proponents for the most part. “Comment” has become a pacifier.

Only last year for instance…twenty plus years into the “experiment”… did the King County Council finally call for some safety standards in these operations. This…after years of frustrated complaints (comment) from the public…at endless hearings.

In point of fact this action was really one of meaningless redundancy. More pacification.

There have been laws and regulations to insure safe methodology in public works for over a century. Laws and regulations that were disregarded at will by the “proponents” of reckless LWD in our streams.

This has to change. The public must come to see the contradiction…and the cost…in this abandonment. Here the media and the body politic have scarcely spoken. Again pacification of the public…behind a screen of half-truths and misinformation… has been the common serving.


Dangerous woody debris…from the occasional loose log to the massive and ever-growing jams that may finally stir the media to some note… has essentially two origins. Those LWD installations of habitat proponents… placed in streams by government agencies… and the natural storm-fall or bank-erosion loosened trees that occur with some frequency depending on natural events.

The accompanying pictures illustrate the creation…collapse…and ultimate catastrophe…
of one such agency-created failure on the Cedar River in King County, WA. This project was done in spite of at least one reported drowning…and many injuries to other youngsters…in the same reach of this river. These other recorded events all took place in similar LWD installations by King County.

The unnatural and haphazard nature of this project is immediately apparent in the pictures. Even agents of other agencies who promote LWD warned that this project was inherently dangerous and certain to fail. The attitude of the “designers” was time will tell. By accounts of neighbors and other King County employees…the danger was so obvious that one of the “design team” at least…refused to sign off on it. Yet this person did not muster the determination to report the matter with the observation at a public meeting that he felt…”time will tell”…as to the integrity of the project!

And indeed it did!

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