Monday, September 17, 2007

The Mighty Duwamish. River or Waterway?

I work in South Park, in South Seattle, about 10 miles south of downtown. I occasionally grab some lunch and head down to the river to watch the water and wildlife. Today, the native American's are fishing it, with nets running across the river about 50 feet apart. They do this a few times a year. Last week I saw salmon jumping high out of the water, there are even a few places that anglers will brave the bank. They do this for the migrating fish, however. You wouldn't dare eat something out of this river that spent it's life here.

There are a few parks, mostly very small triangular plots where you can sit and look at the river. These parks are on the whole polluted, filled in with old cement blocks, brick walls felled to form a makeshift bulkhead, creosote covered, rotten pilings stretching out into the shallows like ancient, disembodies legs. You wouldn't even know these parks were here unless you were really looking for them. They are at the end of graveled, dead-end streets. Rutted by decades of neglect and huge 18-wheelers delivering the supplies that keep our growing port city and nearby Boeing Field constantly moving.

The small park I was in today had a stone, carved and smoothed out to make a seat, with an inscription. It said,
This is a river, not a waterway.
I didn't catch the name of the person quoted but he was apparently a great friend of the Duwamish, who cared deeply about its future. A quick search for what constitutes a waterway came back as
a river, canal, or other body of water serving as a route or way of travel or transport
The Duwamish is definitely all of these things, but I think the man quoted on the stone was definitely on to something. Here in the Pacific Northwest we've been losing our rivers to waterways for a century or more. The promise of cheap, abundant power drove us to dam our major rivers to a point where we have been forced to truck returning schools of salmon past the dams, in mostly futile attempts to protect diminishing salmon returns. The ability of using rivers for transportation brought us to place our most polluting industries right along their shores. This idea of a waterway as route for travel or transport is limiting in the way that humans limit things unconsciously. It fails to mention who the water is making way for. That would be us. Humans. The problem is that these were waterways long before we arrived. Fish and marine mammals filled these rivers before we got here, delivering precious biological cargo upriver and we've pushed them aside in the name of progress.

Well, it looks like Seattle has taken a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the Duwamish basin has deteriorated to the point where it is a Superfund site, the good news it that this status has put in motion a project to return a portion of it's natural beauty and utility, both for those that eat lunch on it's shores, like myself, and the birds, fish and other aquatic species that depend on it. The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition is tasked with this job. They have links to a wealth of information about the project and recent press coverage on their website.

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