How high’s the water Mama?

By Jason Beale, Manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center
Three days of steady rain and high winds are still making their mark at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.  The Abbott’s Pond spillway is working overtime with all of the water rushing through.  Memorial Day rains had already washed out parts of the dam, undermining the bridge on Abbott’s Pond Road, which has been closed since then.
Abbott's Pond spillway working overtime
Abbott's Pond spillway working overtime

The generally slow and meandering Johnson’s Branch has morphed into Johnson’s Swamp, flooding all low lying areas.  While floods and storm surges may be viewed as unpredictable disasters, marine and freshwater edge habitats are inherently dynamic in nature and human land use often influences the severity of these events through increased run-off, reduced percolation, and expensive infrastructure located in these areas.  

Together again: the confluence of Johnson's Branch (top) and the Mill Tail Race (bottom)
Together again: the confluence of Johnson's Branch (top) and the Mill Tail Race (bottom)

This natural process has shaped southern Delaware’s streamside forests for thousands of years.  The periodic flooding of these areas made them difficult to farm or build on, which is the reason that many of these forests still line the floodplains of the region.  Indicator soils, plants, and animals in these areas are adapted to survive and thrive in this dynamic habitat.  The waters deposit rich soil and water-borne seeds, which in turn supports new plant growth, slowly building up the land.  Trees, uprooted by the high waters or wind, provide a damming effect.  All of these events contribute to the alteration of the stream channel. 

Johnson's Swamp?  The bright leaves of winterberry and fringe-tree, two denizens of the swamp forest at Abbott's Mill.
Johnson's Swamp? The bright leaves of winterberry and fringe-tree, two denizens of the swamp forest at Abbott's Mill, are visible at the typical stream boundary.
Looking at old tax maps, one can track these changes.  In fact, Ainsworth Abbott, the last miller, was in constant dispute with his neighbors over the ownership of the land and the stream’s inability to adhere to human-imposed boundaries.
Abbott's Mill outflow.  Note the submerged wall to the right of the bricks
Abbott's Mill outflow. Note the submerged wall to the left of the bricks.

Take the time to look closer at the plants and animals that live along Delaware’s waterways and discover the unique adaptations that allow them to persist through floods and the other extreme, droughts.

The Eagles at Conowingo trip has been rescheduled to Friday, November 20th, 8am to noon.  If you would like to reserve a spot, visit www.delawarenaturesociety.org or call (302) 239-2334 ext. 134.

1 thought on “How high’s the water Mama?”

Leave a Reply