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Project Clearwater — Expedition Nine

2014-02-01

Project Clearwater — Expedition Nine

Ready and waiting.

After two weekends of hard labor, with tons of wood moved, Blockage #15 was still sporting 65 yards of flotsam and a completely obstructed path.  This was the trip that was going to change things and change them drastically.

We arrived early at Highland Road Park and started preparing for yet another 8am start.  Unlike the last few weeks, however, there was no ice, snow, or frost anywhere.  It was almost warm.  (The Louisiana natives among us may dispute that, but not too vigorously.)  This time around we had four people, including an LSU student as our third “press” guest in three weeks — we’ve been feeling a bit popular of late, but none of us have cool sunglasses… yet?

With all the previous blockages still open and clear, the paddle downstream took a mere 50 minutes of leisurely paddling.  As we rounded the Not-So-Great Wall of Fountain, the upstream edge of #15 came into view.  The flotsam was still covering a full 65 yards of bayou.  Our canoe tracks from last weekend were still visible, which seemed a reasonably good sign.  We deployed the cameras and gear ashore, while we walked one canoe through the entire length of muck and shoved it over the cork into free water.

The beginning of the end.

Two of us immediately started attacking the cork, wrenching the key logs out with the winch.  Our third started collecting litter.  A first log came away.  Then another.  Then more.  Each pull left less of the collection of dam logs, and the flow through started increasing.  Then we pulled one more log, and my, oh, my, did it ever change things.

With several inches difference between the upstream and downstream water levels, when the dam broke the flow was tremendous.  There was no whitewater, but standing in the middle of the flow was barely possible.  The flotsam poured through with the water, and we pulled and tossed smaller logs as they came by.  A significant amount of litter moved on down the bayou, but it’ll continue to be caught up, giving plenty of time to clear it out before it ends up in Bayou Manchac or beyond.  So, what did it look like?  Let’s roll the time lapse.

Four hours from when we arrived on site, we were done.  What had been 65 yards of virtually paddle-proof bayou a few weeks ago was now a wide open channel, easily able to handle the Canoemaran.  Speaking of the Canoemaran, the large items we pulled out of the bayou, along with some bagged litter, are staged on the bank ready for pickup.  Unless something changes, we should be able to recover that next weekend on our way back upstream from the work day.  We each took the traditional ceremonial paddle through the former blockage and back, and then it was time to head out.

Ceremonial paddle

Some of the litter and logs ended up snagged just below the former blockage, but that will be easy enough to clear.  If we have litter pickers next week, it’ll be convenient for them, too.    We have three more numbered blockages to clear before we hit the last of the majors at Blockage #19.  One interesting piece of data is that the downstream level at #15 rose as the level equalized.  That strongly implies that there’s another major jam acting as a dam, and #19 is the favorite from what we saw in the original scouting run.

Canoe beyond #15

The paddle back upstream went just as fast as the run downstream — faster, in fact, for the canoe with the two “new” paddlers, who seemed to have quite adeptly gotten the hang of it.  Keeping up in the gear canoe with the dry canoe in tow was a chore, but they didn’t have to wait too long for the slowpokes.  We also crossed paths with four people in two canoes on our way back up the bayou.  That now makes three boats on the water we’ve seen that weren’t with us.

After the last two trips out where lots of work was done but little change was obvious, this was an amazing day.  It’s always fun to reach breakthrough on a jam, and on one as epic as this one, well, “Woo-hoo!”  We’ll be back out there again next Saturday, continuing toward #19.  Checking the recon photos, we’ve got a bit of work to get there, but it should be fun.

The way is *not* shut.

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