Come High Water


I needed some inspiration for this blog post so I turned to the one source I was certain to find it – Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.

It made sense to me to turn to the section titled April to see what Leopold wrote about the river in the spring.  He did not disappoint.  In a section titled Come High Water he writes:

“Unlike the geese and the carp, the terrestrial birds and mammals accept high water with philosophical detachment. A cardinal atop a river birch whistles loudly his claim to a territory that, but for the trees, cannot be seen to exist.” Aldo Leopold

We’ve had a lot of rain this week and some areas up north got up to a foot of snow.  With the rains and melting snow there is always high water. River banks that are normally visible from the bridge into Sauk City are under water.  Sandbars have disappeared.  Debris moves quickly down river in the swift current.

I’ve lived in the area long enough to have witnessed spring flooding.  There is a big difference between high water and flooding.  High water is a normal part of spring.  The flooding that happened in Sauk County in June 2008 that caused Lake Delton to overflow which washed away at least three homes into the Wisconsin River was unprecedented. 12″ of rain fell the morning of June 9 2008.  Lake Delton waters began overflowing mid-morning and quickly flowed downhill to the river some 800 feet away.

Within four hours Lake Delton had emptied completely leaving nothing but mud.

Lake Delton is a man-made lake. Created in 1927 when a Chicago construction company owner, William J. Newman, decided to build a resort along Dell Creek in the community of Lake Delton.  Newman hired engineers to construct a 30 ft high dam near the confluence of Dell Creek and the Wisconsin River.  A 1,000 ft long dike was built along the dam.

In July 1927 the dam’s sluice gates which controlled the water levels were closed and water pooled from the flow of Dell Creek forming the lake.

Leopold bought his sand farm along the Wisconsin River in 1935, just a few years after Lake Delton was created.

Two men were drawn to the same area along the river just miles apart in Sauk County for two very different reason.  One man dreamed of creating a place where families could come and spend summer days along the shores of a lake created by concrete structures that changed the natural flow of water.  The other came to observe the life that existed along the very same waterway, not to control it but to learn from it.

It seems to me that Leopold had the right idea.

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