Blog-A-Thon Entry 5: Wild Connections

Our fifth entry comes from Ted Reckas, with One World One Ocean. Join Ted and explore the wild connection between the mountains and the ocean through geographical features like watersheds and the continental divide.

I stood dripping wet, surfboard under arm, barefoot on rocks. I have spent my life in the ocean, but I had never seen so much water coming at me so fast. A water shed 100,000 square miles in area was pouring its runoff into the Snake River, and Lunch Counter rapid, so named because that’s where boaters eat it, churned ominously.

I stood at the jump off rock, near some local surfers.

“This is crazy. I’ve never surfed in a river,” I said.

“Really? We’ve never surfed in the ocean,” one responded

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Kayakers and surfers take turns on the standing wave at Lunch Counter, Snake River, Wyoming. Photo: Danny Beasse.

 Just 62.8 miles away was the continental divide, which separates all North American watersheds; any water that falls to the west of it will run into streams and rivers that eventually reach the Pacific ocean, and any water that falls to the east will run all the way to the Atlantic.

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A portion of the Santa Clara River watershed Photo: David Pu’u

The Santa Clara is the second largest river in Southern California, and remains mostly in its natural state instead of being channelized with concrete like other major rivers in the area. It is estimated to have had one of the largest runs of steelhead trout in Southern California prior to the 1940s, with thousands of fish.

I wondered if the millions of gallons of water rushing past would end up shaping the sandbar at the Santa Clara rivermouth, where I had grown up surfing in Ventura, California.

I realized I had been surfing in a river all my life. In heavy rain years, sediment would pile up where the river met the ocean, creating a huge sloping sandbar. Perfect waves the color of chocolate milk would break along it for hundreds of yards. Huge boulders and whole tree trunks would roll around in the surf, along with tires, discarded clothing, bottles that were tossed in gutters, drops of oil that were rinsed off someone’s driveway, and residue from pesticide sprayed on orchards upstream. A baby rattlesnake once floated by on a tangle of bamboo. The river’s power to move things was apparent.

It’s easy to get frustrated with the people who live upriver from me, whose discards wash down onto the beach, and into the ocean. But I’m upstream from someone too. And it’s not a stream; it’s a cycle.

Steelhead trout swim from rivers into the ocean, become salmon, and return to spawn in their home tributary. Bears, eagles, and up to 140 species benefit from the annual wave of nutrients carried inland from the ocean byspawning salmon.

But the salmon won’t make it if they’re overfished before they ever head upstream. And they won’t be worth eating if they’re contaminated with the 5500 metric tons of mercury we emit into the atmosphere and ocean each year.

We all live in a watershed, and our actions impact every part of it, as the water runs toward the ocean. For those of us who live far from the coast, our actions touch more points along the way, from the crest of the continental divide, to the oceans on either side.

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The Ventura River, fed by the Matilija watershed, has natural runs of steelhead trout. Photo: David Pu’u

 

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