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Monday, April 13, 2009

First Ditch Effort

River Rat recently spent some time near a ditch -- just the place you'd expect a rat to hang out. But ditches in the water world, especially in Wisconsin, usually mean: "I used to be a stream, but the well-meaning fools of the early 20th century wanted to make me into a ditch so they could get water out of their fields, and straightened me out."

Problem is, those fields were marshes for hundreds or thousands of years, and unless they are "managed" (by well-meaning fools), they will revert back to what is in their biological genetic code. With time and experience, we start to see the folly of single-purpose land management, and realize that maybe these ditches and the land they drain might offer some other ecological services.

The think tank for a new view of drainage districts is the farm of Justin and Lynn Isherwood, near Plover. They and their neighbors farm what had been a gigantic marsh. But Isherwoods recognize that trying to tame old that former marsh, by dredging and ditching, makes a good display of the old adage, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail."

More on this topic in upcoming communiques, but in listening to Justin Isherwood trying to bring the drainage commission into the 21st century in how it thinks about this former marsh, you wonder: what is it that we do now that in 50 years, the youngest rats among us will ask, "What were they thinking when they did THAT?" This old rat thinks numbing suburban development, with its asphalt strip malls and detachment from anything beautiful or valuable, is a good candidate for the young rats' questions 20 years hence.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what percentage of the City of Milwaukee itself used to be marsh/swamp/wetland. Early maps indicate it to have been a large area. One case in point is Evergreen Cemetery, with its failing (but probably innovative at the time) drainage system. You can see ducks swimming above graves after a rain.
    I found an undated quote about the city in the 1991 book "Milwaukee Walks," from early settler George Pinckney: "The town, or what there is of it, is right in the middle of a swamp. You can't go half a mile in any direction without getting into the water."