25 January, 2011

Mud Larking

One of the most noticeable remnants after a flood event - aside from the smell - is mud. It is everywhere and on everything. I've seen this several times before and knew it would be the case in the aftermath of the current flood. I also thought it would be entertaining to take the boys to have a look. Boys like mud - right? Well, some more than others it seems and mine not particularly.
We headed from the Breakwater back towards town skirting around, and eventually wading through, several low-lying sections of the track which were still partially submerged. In addition to the mud, there was the usual array of debris, although I fancy this was somewhat less than in previous recent events so perhaps the river had been at least partially flushed clean before the present deluge arrived.

 What had increased noticeably was the amount of wildlife. Perhaps, since the boundaries between river and bank had become somewhat blurred, a few creatures were having trouble distinguishing between the two. In particular, skinks. Until now, I'd not seen them at the river but on this occasion we saw two making the most of the mud.
The birds also seemed to be rather thicker on the ground - in some cases quite literally as I noticed on an earlier visit whilst water levels were still high, that the local population of silver gulls (aka seagulls) were standing shoulder to shoulder on any dry patch of land they could find.
Prior to heading to the river I had read in the local media that Reedy Lake (downstream of the Breakwater) was having what is called a "black water event". This phenomenon occurs when large volumes of water are discharged into the lake system, forcing oxygen out of the water causing the death of fish and wildlife. In the case of the Barwon, the increased water flow caused the death of a variety of fish and eels further upstream which were then dumped into Reedy Lake along with the increased in water volume, causing a loss of oxygen and further loss of fauna including ibis chicks and ducklings.
With this in mind and hoping to see some evidence of this occurrence for myself, I loaded us back in the car (minus the boys' shoes which had been relegated to the boot) and headed first for Reedy Lake at the bottom of Coppard's Road and then, in the limited time I had available to the end of Moolap Station Road.

Submerged plant life, Reedy Lake.
I have to say that I didn't see a single dead fish or eel, but I could certainly smell them! Whilst the river in town certainly smelt muddy, at the Lake, it was not only muddy, but salty and fishy at the same time and quite unpleasant. This was also significantly different to previous occasions when I'd been to this area. Whilst there were less visible signs of flooding here, the smell certainly indicated that all was not as it should be. The water which I could see, certainly had a brown hue to it and the water level had been somewhat higher than when I arrived, but in general it did not look too different.

One unexpected, but for me useful side effect of the flood was, as I mentioned earlier, to condense the space available to bird life. In fact I spotted two species I had not to that point seen anywhere else along the course of the river which perhaps had been forced by the floods to parts of the river system they would not normally inhabit. Firstly, at Coppard's Road, I snapped a Royal Spoonbill, sharing a narrow spit of land with a black swan, an Australian White Ibis and a Pied Cormorant or two.
Royal Spoonbill

Secondly, at Moolap Station Road I found quite a number of Magpie Geese - large birds and not easily missed - which had definitely not been present previously. What were largely absent however, were the dozens and dozens of Ibis which normally inhabit the area, indicating that the disturbance to the local bird life was quite real.  

Magpie Goose
At this point I have yet to see other parts of the river system to see what other effects of the flood may be present, however it was also reported that a large bloom of dirty water was issuing from Barwon Heads into the sea as far as Point Lonsdale. Another unfortunate impact of this out flux of floodwater, I am informed, is that the mass of of fresh water forms a layer over the top of the higher-density saltwater, killing off marine fish and wildlife which does not survive well in a freshwater environment.

16 January, 2011

Flood Sports

A week can make quite a difference when it comes to a river. Last week I ran a short distance upstream and back, nothing unusual in that or in the river and its surrounds. Between Monday and last Friday, the rain gauge in my backyard recorded 125mm of rain - and the result? By Saturday night the river level had risen to be at "moderate flood levels" through Geelong.
Barwon River in flood - Breakwater.

The Bureau informs me that the Barwon officially peaked at a height of 3.68 metres very early on Sunday morning and by the time I made it down to survey the extent of the damage it was already beginning to recede. Having said that, there was still plenty of water where it shouldn't have been. As always, the first point to go under was the Breakwater and Barrabool Road was of course closed. Whilst I didn't see the flood marker at this point, various citizens were wading up the middle of the road somewhat above waist height. Likewise, virtually every low-lying section of the track around the river was under water.
One of the first things of note when the Barwon floods is the number of locals who come out for a look - me included. Suddenly I am not the only person toting a camera and looking at the river. Virtually every access point has someone there taking in the action.
Baum's Weir.

And action there was. At both Buckley's Falls and Baum's Weir the volume of water and the speed at which it was flowing was clearly in evidence. Noise, foam, water and mud were the order of the day as I have found to be the case with previous flood events. Whilst the flow of water is spectacular, the mud which will coat everything once water levels subside, is not and may well keep me off some parts of the track for several days. On this occasion, there seems to be little in the way of damage to buildings. The rowing sheds are partially submerged as are a few other low-lying buildings, however as this is a semi-regular occurrence for these buildings, I imagine there is not too much damage that can be done. In this respect, Geelong is fairly well positioned with respect to enduring floods. There are few, if any, low-lying houses and it is only in the worst of floods that more than one bridge will be out of action. In fact, when the Breakwater Bridge redevelopment is complete in a year or two, even that problem will be solved. 
Barrabool Road.

This raises the point that floods in Geelong are generally more a source of entertainment or at worst an inconvenience than a source of death and destruction as has been the case in Brisbane. Everyone comes out for a look and compares water levels to either the 1995 flood or in the case of the over 60s, the 1952 flood. 
In addition to the sightseers, there are those who also come to play - no doubt against the advice of authorities. It occurs to me that in addition to the usual array of sporting activities which take place on and by the river, there is a category which only comes into its own during floods. Some are merely variations upon everyday activities - such as walking and riding along what is left of the track or wading along flooded roads. There also seems to be some sort of sense that dogs are immune to the dangers of swimming in flood waters. When we were surveying the scene at Fyansford mid-morning, there were no less than five dogs swimming on the Common. I was later given a very friendly greeting by a very soggy Labrador near the Moorabool Street Bridge.
I have it on good advice that an athletics meet of some description was held at Landy Field yesterday. This morning, there was one hardy soul doing sprints in the car park, but otherwise, the only activity was a pair of wood ducks having a paddle near the discus nets.
Landy Field.

Kayaking is also very much a "flood sport". During each flood event it is almost mandatory that the Geelong Advertiser posts a photo of a bloke in a kayak going over Buckley's Falls. This time things were a little different. There was no photo and the bloke got stuck in a tree minus his kayak - now that would be a photo worth seeing!
Other sporting activities are somewhat more inventive and my favourite for the day was a group of young guys in boardies with a 4WD ute, a rope and a skimboard (or similar). With several of their number watching on, the chosen one would place the board in the water, grab hold of the rope and then attempt to mount the board and skim in the shallows at the edge of the river while his mate towed him with the ute - something like a cross between water skiing and skateboarding. Not withstanding the mess they were making of the riverbank at this point, they were actually quite good at what they were doing. Again, I'm not sure the authorities would have been impressed.

The latest sporting craze.

Of course, for the four wheel driving enthusiast, there is also the option of finding the biggest puddle you can and seeing if you have the guts to drive through it. This may also provide photo fodder for the Advertiser if your vehicle gets stuck. Maybe this was what one driver had in mind when he attempted to cross what would otherwise be an expanse of grass near the Moorabool Street Bridge. Once the water level reached almost to the top of his tyres he clearly decided that he wasn't equipped for serious water crossings and reversed back to higher ground. I suspect I may have missed yet another photo-opportunity.