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Project Clearwater — Expedition Twenty-Two


Project Clearwater — Expedition Twenty-Two

High Water

Last week the bayou was as low as it’s been in quite a long time.  Then Friday the rains came…

The weather’s been quite dry of late, and Bayou Fountain was certainly showing it.  Last Saturday, the bayou was about 6’4″ below the bridge, and various shallows were showing.  We took out a few of them, but it was looking like we’d have much more rake time coming.  For a while on Friday it looked like we were going to miss out on significant rain yet again, but then the bottom fell out of the clouds.  With a reported 3.27″ of rain in a rather short period, the bayou was going to be quite a bit higher, to be certain.

Saturday morning dawned with the Bluebonnet gauge back to reading real numbers and that with a vengeance, showing a gauge level well over 10 feet.  We arrived at the park expecting to see quite a bit of water, and we were not disappointed.  Part of the field was now the Bay of Fountain, and walking to the usual launch spot showed that launching was not going to be difficult like last time.  The water was only inches shy of the top of the slope.  The chain gauge in the background, meanwhile, had the water easily reaching the pipe that marks the bridge, and the current was pulling it at quite a rakish angle.

The current at Highland Road Park was as fast as we’ve seen.  According to the GPS receiver, we were drifting 2mph downstream.  That’s a decent clip for a bayou.  As a rule of thumb, a canoe with moderately experienced crew paddling at moderate exertion can hold 3mph, and a canoe of inexperienced paddlers paddling casually can hold 2mph.  (This is not scientific but seems to be a decent rule of thumb.)  That being the case, it can be hard work paddling against a 2mph current, and steering can be rather more interesting, shall we say. In the Comite or upper Amite there can be a large number of strainers (downed trees and similar objects with water flowing through them), making those waterways potentially dangerous in fast water; in Bayou Fountain, you’re more likely to just get hit in the face by hanging branches every so often, and without hard bends accelerating the current around the outside, it’s much less intense.  Of course, there *is* that one bridge.

Water into the bridge.

After the bridge, the trip downstream was easy.  Gradually, the current dropped off, until by the second, larger power lines about two miles in, it was barely noticeable.  It was right around that point, just at the downstream end of the Not-So-Great Wall of Fountain, when the first obstruction came into view.  A large log/trunk/tree which had been elsewhere in the bayou had been washed down and caught completely across the bayou at the end of the wall.  It took quite a bit of effort to shift it, but it eventually gave in and moved out of the way enough to open a path.  We left it there and continued downstream.

The caught tree/trunk/log, before.

Just past the power lines, another problem spot presented itself.  Barely a tenth of a mile down from where the large trunk had caught at the end of the wall, a tree had fallen across the bayou.  (Incidentally, if a tree falls in the bayou and you later come around to see it, please do make a sound — call, email, or post to let us know, and if you include the approximate location, all’s the better.)  This downed tree was causing a bit of a catch, but the trunk was up to a couple feet deep.  We freed some things and continued down the bayou to check on the rest before returning to continue the work day.

There weren’t any significant issues downstream of the downed tree, but there were a few small partial catches that were easily dealt with.  It was at one of these a bit downstream from mile marker 1.5 that we noticed something unusual.  I had just pulled a log out of a plastic chair, and when I turned back a few moments later, the chair wasn’t there.  It couldn’t have gone far, but it was nowhere to be seen… until I turned and looked upstream.  There it was, floating along back the way we had just come.  Sure enough, as we continued down the bayou, the current kept increasing.  By the time we were at Bayou Manchac, the current was every bit as strong as it had been at Highland Road Park, just in the opposite direction.

Another Easter Egg

Paddling upstream both ways added a certain amount of difficulty to the day, but then again, it made the first half of the return trip much easier.  It wasn’t long before we were back at the downed tree and working the problem.  Quite a bit of effort went into sawing off all the accessible limbs and branches, and the majority of the tree is no more.  Unfortunately, both the last major branch and the root ball end of the trunk were inaccessibly deep, so the  trunk remains across the bayou.  It was still a couple feet below the water level, but it may require hopping over/around this week until we can get back out and finish it.

Downed tree, before.

Normally, we like a bit of current at the work area, as it helps to separate the actual problem logs and branches from the small stuff that happens to get caught up.  With the bayou flowing toward the middle from both ends, however, we had virtually no current right where we wanted it most.  It was much more work to paddle back and forth through the flotsam to break it up and find the longer bits.  With everything harder and taking longer, we didn’t get back to the park until after 7pm, but the day was not without its simple pleasures.  For example, on arriving back at the trunk at the wall, we got to see an alligator sunning itself on the culprit log right where the line was tied on.  (It took a second to get the camera, but you can still clearly see him in the video embedded above.)  Also, I picked up an unusual souvenir (in addition to the Easter Egg):  my very own speed bump!

My very own speed bump!

With the current, the high water level, the obstructions to work, and the inconvenient *lack* of current (go figure), it was an exceptionally long and arduous day.  Still, other than the one remaining trunk to tackle, the bayou help up amazingly well to a sudden major influx of water.  Looking back at historical rainfall in Baton Rouge, 3.27″ in a day seems right in line with expectations for drenching rains not from storms with names or arks attached.  We’ll be out next weekend to tackle the remaining trunk and anything else that may have developed during this high water.  It’ll be nice to go *under* the bridge again.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael Holmes permalink
    2014-05-17 2:03pm

    A friend and I came out this morning (5/17) to help but missed you guys by about 12 minutes. Still paddled and gathered a boat-full of floating trash.

    Would love to do more work paddles and support what ya’ll are doing.

    • 2014-05-17 7:39pm

      You had to *just* miss us, as we were a few minutes slow in heading downstream. We took care of a downed tree or two and a couple other things on our long, slow way to Bayou Manchac. It’s all clear again now.

      The recent deluge flushed quite a bit of litter into the bayou, so I’m glad to hear that you collected some. With the clearing work today, we didn’t have a chance to grab much more than some souvenirs. Anyway, glad you could get out there on the bayou, and I look forward to catching up with you out there sometime.

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