news from the waterfront by Tim Matson


Ah, the delights of synchronicity. Uncanny coincidence. Serendipity. Here I was wondering what might be interesting to write about for this month's Pondology, but coming up dry, when what shows up in my in-box but a most interesting article on beer! Beer! That's exactly where my pond writer’s block began.

You see, I've been finishing up a book project on homebrewing beer, and with my mind focused on brewing, it was difficult to switch gears back to ponds. Friends know I'm on a beer track, and they keep sending me this or that beery tidbit. God bless em! But not helpful if you're looking for a pond story. Well hang on. What turns up in my email is a reference to a brewing catastrophe 200 years ago in London. A giant vat of ale sprung a leak, exploded, and flooded the neighborhood with tons of frothy brew. Terrible wreckage and loss of life. Clearly compelling history when you're working on a beer book. But distracting when you're hoping for a pond thought. Yet suddenly there it was. The connection!

Think of the instances of ponds bursting their basins and flooding the neighborhood. (Without The possibility of scooping up growlers of free ale, alas.) The great Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889 is remembered as the worst disaster by dam failure in American history.

The 1889 flood was the biggest news story of the time and a big scandal. Many of the leading industrialists of the day were members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club that owned the dam. They continued to ignore the needed repairs to the reservoir’s dam and then on May 31, 1889, torrential rain did the deed of breaching the dam. Twenty million tons of water rushed to the city killing 2,209 people and washing away the buildings. The relief effort was the first major peacetime disaster for Clara Barton and the fledgling American Red Cross.

Only a few years ago a pond dam blew out in Alton, New Hampshire, killing a woman downstream and wreaking terrible damage. In fact I was recently working on a pond design for a New Hampshire pond with requirements for a strict spillway system inspired by fear of another blowout. Then there was the pond that blew out in Glover, Vermont, in 1810. It flooded the downstream valley with a million gallons of water and became known as Runaway Pond, a high (or low) point in town history, and was dramatized in an outdoor theatre recreation by the Bread and Puppet Theater. Okay, where is all this spilled beer and flooded pond stuff leading? I remembered that in Vermont there is at this very moment pending legislation (H. 37) that will mandate pond dam inspections, which if passed, will mean that pond owners submit their dams to state evaluation and permitting. Every pond submitted to expert evaluation to make sure there will be no Altons or Glovers or any of the other pond blowouts that have occurred when pond owners don't make sure their dams are well built and maintained. But who is to say whether this or that dam is safe? Criteria please. Is this a good idea or more government intrusion? Stay tuned for more on this as I dig into this dam story.

Nevertheless, no doubt it's always best pond practice to periodically inspect your dam for possible leaks on the backslope or connected to the overflow/spillway system. Waterlevel drops can also be a warning about a leak, but may be hard to tell from a natural drop due to weather. And remember trees growing on a dam are not a good idea, although there may be exceptions depending on dam and tree size, and root depth.

Meanwhile back to the beer. The book is scheduled for September publication. Here's a link to the publisher's announcement. Sign up now to be sure you'll get a first printing! I will work on a way to arrange for signed copies, for those interested.

Here's mud in your eye!



Sources: Johnstown Flood Museum Website; Johnstown Flood National Memorial Website

May 1, 2015

Click Here for other Pondologies by Tim Matson

© earthponds.com 2003-2017 Photos by Tim Matson. All rights reserved.