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Our most valuable natural resource

Judy Van Put - Columnist
Posted 8/24/20

Heading into the last full week of August, with an extra weekend before the (unofficial) end of summer vacation, Labor Day weekend, our rivers and streams have been in good shape, with slightly above …

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Our most valuable natural resource

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Heading into the last full week of August, with an extra weekend before the (unofficial) end of summer vacation, Labor Day weekend, our rivers and streams have been in good shape, with slightly above average flows and cooler temperatures than we often see in late summer.

Fly hatches for the end of August still include the tiny (size #18 - #20) Blue-Winged Olives, Tricos and midges, as well as the larger Light Cahills (sizes #12 - #16) and the darker Isonychias (#12) in the afternoons. Small (#16 - #20) yellow Sulphurs may also be seen.

We tend to have success fishing with our old favorite, the Adams, which doesn't imitate anything in particular but is very ‘buggy' looking, matching the size of the fly with the size of what we see on the water or in the air.

Checking in with the USGS website on Sunday afternoon, the Beaverkill at Cooks Falls was flowing at 166 cubic feet per second, which is above the average level for August 23 of 123 cfs over 107 years of record-keeping - and water levels have been above average all week. August flows tend to be on the low side, but today's reading is quite a contrast to the minimum flows that were recorded way back in 1954, when just 32 cubic feet per second trickled past the gauge.

You can find the United States Geological Survey website for the state of New York by visiting http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ny/nwis/rt and clicking on the area and river you desire. For each gauging station you visit, information is provided on water levels (gauge height), water temperature and current stream flow, which is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). Most sites also provide interesting information, such as how many years that particular station has been operating.

Although the Beaverkill's 107 years of record-keeping seems like a long time especially in relation to our own lifetimes, in the realm of scientific data it's just a blink of an eye. It's interesting to monitor these records with some consistency over the years; I've learned a lot about the rivers as I watch for trends and remember certain events. It brought back to my memory a summer when I was a little girl and our spring ran dry.

In those days, there was no such thing as bottled water which is difficult to believe today, when water is sold in practically every retail store, gas station, even schools. We had to travel from our house in Grahamsville to “the water pipes” in Willowemoc - with buckets, pails, jars, Mom's spaghetti pots and whatever else we had in order to bring water home. Not only was bottled water not available, but water bottles were almost non-existant.

I remember many days of water being stored in the refrigerator for drinking (sparingly) as well as in the bathtub for washing purposes. And also being told we were not allowed to waste any water at all. Mom and Dad made light of it - “pretend we're camping” - but I remember hearing their worry in hushed conversations after I'd gone to bed. Now I know, from those recollections and the USGS records, that it happened in the mid-1960s with levels that were less than 1/4 of today's average flows. Over and over, the record lows during the summer months seem to have occurred back in those years, especially during 1964 and 1965.

Today there are still a number of “water pipes” around the county that continue to be used, as people believe that the spring water that sources those “water pipes” is superior than the water used in many households. We are privileged to live in the water-rich area of upstate New York; fresh water is really our most precious commodity.

This rings so true when we watch the reports on the news this past week of the frightening fires spreading across California - covering an area the size of the state of Rhode Island. My own family (sister/brother-in-law, nieces and their families) were in the middle of the Jones fire and had evacuated last week; my younger niece's husband is a firefighter for CalFire and worked on the front lines in 12 and 24-hour shifts that thankfully have now contained most of that fire - and all have returned home, ready in a moment's notice to leave again should that tinderbox countryside re-ignite.

We are privileged to live in the water-rich area of upstate New York. We have experienced rain showers and thunderstorms that water the land, provide lush greenery, and keep our rivers flowing. Let us hope that the rains we receive in the future continue to benefit our area without causing damage, and may we be diligent in protecting and preserving the fresh water we are so fortunate to have.

Judy Van Put is a long-time member of the NYS Outdoor Writers Association, and is the recipient of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited's Professional Communications Award.

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