Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Original Hydrologist

It keeps raining! There’s a pond at ranch headquarters just like in March when the weather breaks for spring. For a cowboy it’s heaven on earth. Only, what happens if it keeps being this wet and gets really cold? It’s a scary thought when we’ve got cattle grazing at 6,000 feet.

We’ve got beaver trouble. We love them, but their dam is flooding a ditch and creating a large bog across a pasture in the mountains. Mark and Seth waded into the creek and pulled out great quantities of sticks and succeeded in getting the water level dropped. But of course the beaver had the dam rebuilt when we went back. The sound of escaping water is their cue to get to work.  

Mark called Seth to tell him about it. They joked about the big rodent throwing a bugle to his lips and sounding a call to arms to repair the destruction. Mark made a beeping noise, like heavy equipment in reverse. And we laughed, but Mark wasn’t so jocular when we yanked out the sticks on our next trip.

I was convinced there had to be a better way so went researching for alternatives. I found that a pipe at the bottom of the pond could be used to keep the water level at a certain height. Sounds like it might work.  

Beavers are called a keystone species, like the wedge shaped block at the highest point of an arch, they are the one resident of many within an ecosystem, that if removed would cause the whole thing to implode. Their ponds support a myriad of life forms in the wetlands they create and increase the water table throughout the whole watershed.

Their ponds are firstly for predator protection. A beaver is slow and vulnerable on land but can hide quickly in a deep pond. Besides that, floating timbers is easier than dragging them across land. Just like lumberjacks of old who used rivers to transport logs, beavers are clever that way. The pond also serves as cold storage for tree limbs that provide food for the beaver family during winter. They are vegetarians and feed on leaves and the cambium layer of limbs as a mainstay.   

Beavers can spend up to 15 minutes underwater. They mate for life, and the young, the kits, stay with their parents for two years before venturing off to find new territory. Their lodges have secret watery entrances, with the interior living areas warm and protected from predators through the long kit-raising period.

Beaver, nearly trapped to extinction during the fur-trapping heyday in the 1700’s, have made a comeback, but are coming into more and more conflict with human enterprise. In this age of climate change, declining aquifer levels, population growth and fights over water, hydrology - even and especially here in richly irrigated southeastern Idaho - has come to the forefront. It behooves us to reacquaint ourselves with the original hydro-engineers and find ways to enlist their help.

battle lines are drawn!

still lovely by any measure


  1. Thanks for this informative post. Please let us know how the submerged pipe works!

  2. What a beautiful picture! Thank you for sharing it, and sharing perspective along with the photo. Your readers are a bit closer to your daily experiences.