Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Miracles of Restoration

by Betsy Cannon

Last Friday, the Lutheran Volunteer Corps members in the Puget Sound area, including myself, went on a tour of the Lower Duwamish River. This five mile stretch of river in South Seattle is the tribal land of the Duwamish people, an industrial center, and a Superfund site.  

As we boarded the boat, our guide handed each of us a map of the river.  As we unfolded them, we learned that a river once characterized by oxbows follows a nearly straight path today due to channeling.  Several of us identified with the attempt to regulate rivers in our hometowns.  Whether reversing the flow of the Chicago River or diverting the Mississippi away from the Atchafalaya River, we all remembered a time when humans have tried to control nature.

But more than the channelizing of the river, we were devastated to hear of the PCBs in the salmon, the toxins in the sediment, and cranes driven from their home.  An industrial shredder used to rip apart cars and appliances appeared as a monster looming on the bank.  Although the environmental degradation is terrible, it is equally incredible what has been accomplished.  Now, a park sits along a restored riverbank.  Toxic sediments are being removed from the riverbed with pinpoint accuracy.  Industries contain their chemicals, instead of using them in the open.  Cranes and other wildlife are migrating back.

There is still much work to be done.  Toxics in the water are well above health standards.  Pollutants banned decades ago remain in sewers and flow into the river.  The polluted water disproportionally harms minority and low-income communities.  With over 500 outfalls, contamination continues to run directly into the river.  Still, it is important that we claim our successes and remain hopeful.  Dedicated work can lead to recovery. 

On the boat ride back to the dock, I saw two sea lions surface as a kingfisher dove and snatched a couple of fish from the water.  To me, that’s a miracle.

No comments: