Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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June 17, 2013

Not always a bad thing

Floods offer an ecological reset button

In town, floods are a mess. All of the roadside litter gets swept up and channeled into flood areas, where it snags and looks disgusting. Flood waters, laden with raw sewage from combined sewer outfalls, gets into walls and flooring, creating a stench.

But out in Jerome, where state officials turned a logjam into a fish habitat, the marshy floodplain looks the same as ever. Stinging nettles grow up everywhere in the soggy bottom, forming an effective barrier against human encroachment.

Even the 500-foot fish shelf, made out of tree trunks pulled from the mother-of-all logjams, survived the flood mostly intact. One of the dozens of steel cables holding the tree trunks in place had snapped, allowing one of the trunks, about 18-inches in diameter and about 10 feet long, to break free and stick out of the shelf.

“Any kind of trash in roadside swales will become waterborne, and gets whisked through the pipes,” Wildcat Guardians past-president Sarah Brichford said. “Plastic straws, fast food containers, water bottles, styrofoam cups, water bottles ... there was a picnic table wedged underneath the Dixon Road bridge.”

Rick Peercy, a wildlife biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said the effect of a major flood isn’t catastrophic to wildlife, but said a flood does wipe out breeding habitat, particularly for burrowing animals.

“Animals, for the most part, bounce back. It doesn’t scarify the earth, it just sets back the natural succession,” Peercy said. “It just resets the clock.”

Fish studies suggest some species have better breeding years when there is a low, consistent flow through streams, rather than the raging torrents the Wildcat has seen lately, according to DNR fisheries biologist Jed Pearson.

Stream bank erosion can cover over prime breeding habitats with sediment, and shady areas where fish breed can be washed away, Pearson added.

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