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Movement of Water

So I don’t know about you, but over the past 10 weeks of staying at home, I have become very familiar with my couch. In college I had a friend that called her couch the “lethargy couch.” I have recently nicknamed my couch “Lethargy 2.”

As I was out completing inspections of basins throughout the county, I actually found a couch – with some geese on it relaxing by the water. However, this is the closest thing I could find to a “lethargy couch” in nature. At this time of year, spring is bursting with energy.

If you remember from science class, energy can be in one of two forms: kinetic or potential. Kinetic energy is the energy of motion while potential energy is stored energy. Over the winter, plants store energy for the spring. They will need that energy to produce buds, leaves and flowers to grow in the warmer months of the year. This stored energy is what I like to call a “quiet energy.” It is a bit harder to notice.

Kinetic energy on the other hand is quite noticeable. Our office is deeply involved with the effects of kinetic energy as it relates to water runoff and erosion. Water can have a small amount of energy, moving slow and gentle or, it can have a lot of energy, moving fast and harsh. The faster the water, the more energy it has.

Fast moving water needs a “lethargy couch.” It needs somewhere to slow down and spread out. For example, in a pipe, water moves quickly as it travels a very straight and confined path with little resistance. This is why when it rains; water comes “shooting out of the end of a pipe.” There is lots of kinetic energy in that shooting water.

Often pipes lead to nearby streams. The water within these pipes has a high amount of kinetic energy, and causes erosion. Ideally, the stream has an adequate floodplain, so as water levels rise, this water, full of energy, can spill out of the channel and onto the floodplain where it can spread out and slow down. As it spreads out, that kinetic energy changes into potential energy.

However, this is not the case for much of Cuyahoga County’s urban environment with hard surfaces, pipes and streams with constricted or limited floodplains. Also our changing climate is causing more frequent storms with heavier amounts of rainfall. This all adds to the kinetic energy of water around us and how much damage it can do.

Fortunately, nature is resilient and streams move and change to find a delicate balance. As we expand the built environment, we need to think about the dynamic nature of streams and other natural services. We need to consider how we transfer energy to nature. Thinking about the natural systems and what lies downstream can help immensely to minimize future problems.

Author: Carla Regener, Program Manager, Natural Resources

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