Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Schneider Creek (1)

We live in west Olympia, on the shores of Schneider Creek. I say shores loosely, however. A full half of this stream has been placed underground, in culverts for many years. It finally emerges from underground at a small filtering station on Giles street. We probably live over the culvert as it heads for Giles.

In early Olympia history, this stream found its headwaters near what is today the Decatur Woods park. Patricia Pyle of Olympia Stream Team told me that it seeps up from the groundwater and used to flow north, on the flatter parts of west Olympia. When the west side was developed early in Olympia’s history, the stream was deemed inconvenient and was put underground.
Today it leaves Decatur Woods in a pipe. It heads north to Division and Harrison, where it is joined by culverts from other westside feeder streams. The culvert carrying all these streams is then is routed over to Giles filtering station, where it finally emerges into daylight, goes through a cleaning process, and then is a wild stream once again.

The City of Olympia does an excellent job of cleaning and filtering this stream. As an urban stream, it is very prone to picking up oils, etc. from the streets. In the past, this dirty city water ran straight into Budd Inlet. Today, thanks to the City's hard work, Schneider creek is relatively clean on its exit. And it is still a source of grief for me that we have inherited these historical choices about culverts and it is unlikely Schneider creek's upper reaches will ever be daylighted again.

From the filtering station, Schneider creek crosses under Giles street and heads north, crossing under Bowman and finally into a deep ravine that cuts through the neighborhoods east of Division. Finally the stream encounters the high rise of land that forms the big hill on West Bay drive; it cannot surmount this hill, so it turns east and eventually runs out of land, emptying out into Budd Inlet.

Today is a day of pounding rain - perhaps as much as 5 inches in the last 24 hours. I had wanted to see my own watershed Schneider creek in a full spate, so I pushed my way through sheets of rain, and swam over to the Giles Station. Today the water bursts from the culvert there in a rushing flow, then is diverted immediately to an overflow channel and under Giles street. There is little filtration going on when the flow is so intense.

I then looked across the street where wild Schneider creek sees its first daylight for several miles. The water is so high: peaty brown, rushing between tangled branches of snowberry. There is a powerful sense of freedom here.
Then I went down to West Bay drive. At the bottom of the big West Bay hill, behind the Smythe condos on the west side of the road, you can see Schneider creek pouring headlong down the hillside like the flood it is. The sound of rushing water was so strong, I could barely hear the traffic along the busy street.
Finally I crossed West Bay drive to the tiny pocket park across from the Smythe condos. I got on the tiny overlook deck, and looked down to the final culvert that had carried the stream under West Bay drive. There was a huge surge of opaque brown water pouring out into the bay. I could see the massive plume of brown water flowing into the bay, showing its boundary starkly where it pushed against the clear blue salt water.

This is our watershed, our wild stream which on this stormy day shows all her wild nature. This is our estuary in process, bringing the nutrients of the land down to the sea, dropping them on the tidal flats and creating opportunities for new life. This is our water. This is our life.


Resources: An excellent article by John Dodge in the "Daily Olympian", writing about the silent killer of untreated stormwater discharge to Puget Sound:

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful story of water! You are such a 'wellspring' of interesting knowledge about our area. Thank you so much for sharing your wealth.