The Falls of the James got flushed out a couple of times already this spring with water levels reaching more than 15 feet twice. Ever heard of a term called “freshet?” NBC12′s Andrew Freiden did a story about what they are how they are good for the James River Park System. It’s called a […]
It’s called a freshet, and it’s a rite of spring. In colder climates, melting snow produces floods on major rivers. Around here, it’s our heavy spring rains that bring big rises on the James River.Think of it as spring cleaning for the river. The fast-moving water cleans the river of dirt, debris, trash, and geese excrement that can build up over the winter.
But there are positives to the freshet. In particular to the James River Park System. Park manager and naturalist Ralph White said the fast-moving water can scour out sediment from the river bed, exposing the rocky bottom. That’s important for all kinds of animals who live and breed there.
“It’s a geological term, more often used to describe glacier melt,” said Chris French of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. “[A freshet] is certainly part of the natural cycle…and when you have too much sediment, it certainly impacts downstream, in the tidal area, ultimately where the water slows down and the sediment settles.”
He said oysters, crabs and aquatic grasses can get choked out when there is too much sediment settling in a short period of time.
The visuals of a freshet are obvious, as heavy rains and rising water levels make the water in the James a muddy brown and dislodge plenty of sticks, logs and trees that wash downstream and settle as the river level decreases. Woody debris is a good thing for the water organisms and are not a form of pollution, French said. The rotting wood provides organic matter to organisms and creates habitat in the river and even tidal area.
The main problem in the rivers and streams of the watershed is sediment and unnecessary fertilizers.
“This is a time period that we don’t want people to fertilize right before a storm,” he said. “It’s just going to leave the property as stormwater runoff.”
“While we recognize these surges in rainfall and stream flows are natural conditions, the amount of dirt and fertilizers that enters those streams is not,” he said. “Anyone can take simple steps to reduce sediment in our streams by installing rainbarrels to hold water when it rains, using native plants that do not require fertilizers, and planting trees so rain water can easily percolate into the soil instead of running into storm sewers and streams.”
Check www.allianceforthebay.org to learn more on how you can reduce pollution.