No matter where you live, you have a small flow of water called a stream or creek somewhere nearby. Unfortunately, urbanization coupled with greed has caused the destruction or severe alteration of many of those creeks. In 1999, the United States Department of the Interior listed Chinook salmon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That required the city of Seattle, Washington, to consider the salmon when making capital improvements. But, under the leadership of biologist Katherine Lynch, people came to realize that creeks and streams are designed for life.
Thornton Creek runs through an area of the city, and it had formerly been the spawning grounds for the Chinook salmon. Two streams entering Thornton Creek had originally been floodplains, and the city leaders decided to revitalize them. Unfortunately, not realizing that creeks and streams are designed for life, people had altered the small streams so that they could not support salmon spawning and other functions.
Creeks and streams are highly complex systems, not just water coursing between banks. Under the creek bed is a layer of wet sediment, small stones, and tiny creatures called the hyporheic zone. Water flows into and through this zone just like the creek above, but much more slowly.
The hyporheic zone can spread laterally for a considerable distance beyond the creek banks. In this zone, many good things happen, including aeration, oxygenation, temperature moderation, pollution cleanup, and food creation. In addition, the hyporheic zone is full of living things, including crustaceans, worms, and aquatic insects. They dig passages allowing water to mix with oxygen and nutrients to not only nurture the salmon eggs but to solve a variety of other problems, including flooding.
Straightening a stream, bulldozing it, covering it with concrete, running it through tubes, and burying it have wiped out the hyporheic zone in many creeks. The result is flash floods, pollution, and an area sterile of life, including the salmon. In addition to Seattle, Philadelphia has destroyed 73% of its streams, and Baltimore has buried 66% of its creeks.
Cities experience flooding and other problems because of the destruction of streams. When we pollute creeks and streams, that pollution goes into our rivers. We pay a high price for not respecting God’s design in the world and failing to realize that creeks and streams are designed for life.
— John N. Clayton © 2022
You can read much more about this in Scientific American magazine for April 2022.