Thursday, April 7, 2011

Joe Leary...river, ditch, stream, slough, or manure canal?

This is Joe Leary, a waterway in Skagit county, Washington. The sign is confusing, because while the field is privately owned, the water is (or was) navigable, so it is a public water, open for our fishing and birdwatching endeavors. Manure was just applied onto the adjoining field, which is why it looks so muddy. Joe Leary used to meander, like a natural stream. Now parts of it are within a dike district, so it is regulary dredged, improving drainage from fields like these, which are very wet all winter.
Once upon a time, Joe Leary might have looked like the waterway above, but with some native vegetation scattered around. Now, this little stream joins Joe Leary along the north side of an industrial park on the outskirts of the city of Burlington, Washington.

The waterway continues to flow west, past a half dozen dairy farms, stormwater drainage outfalls, and other water conveyance systems.

Next, the two forks join up, the one from the fields with the recent manure applications, and the other from the industrial park. Under a couple of busy roads they go, and into the really big farm fields of the Skagit delta, famous for tulips, potatoes, raspberries, and...cows!

The photo above shows a "V-ditch." The Skagit delta has hundreds of these, because it is very wet in western Washington. In order to start crops early in the season, the fields have to be drained. Lots of sediment can flow from the V-ditches into the Joe Leary, making regular dredging even more important. V-ditching isn't allowed to join up with streams that contain salmon. Joe Leary used to have salmon, but doesn't any more, so nobody cares about the V-ditches.

I was so curious to see Joe Leary that I pursuaded my best friend to go on a canoe trip last month. We spent the day looking at the orange water, and other sights. We saw a few birds, and lots of cows. Evidently the water is orange because it has lots of iron. Sounds good to me. Iron is good for you, right?

These are some of the cows we saw on our trip. Sometimes there were fences along the Joe Leary, and sometimes there weren't. I guess the cows just figure out how to drink the water without falling down the banks.

This was the end of our journey. We saw a few birds, lots of cows, and we hope to return again, to see more sights. And by the way, Joe Leary Slough is a navigable waterway, not a manure canal.

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