Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Circle Of Life

Severe thunderstorms are once again moving across the area, and in a matter of hours that rainwater will cause the defective pumping station in Yorkville to overflow and send thousands of gallons of untreated sewage into the Mohawk River. By tomorrow morning most of the silt washed into the river will settle and then the water will clear, but only for a few hours.

Why? Because the algae in the water will begin to reproduce at an accelerated rate once the sun rises, turning the water a rich, cloudy green. We might find all that untreated waste flowing from the sewers of Oneida County disagreeable, but to the naturally occurring algae in the water it's the worlds biggest, bestest buffet. A veritable smorgasbord of natural fertilizer conveniently mixed with a stream of heavily oxygenated water- the ideal recipe for rapid growth.

Unfortunately, that growth isn't sustainable. Once the nutrients are depleted the algae will start to die off from starvation, falling to the bottom of the river to create a thick mat of organic material that will itself fuel more growth as it decays. It's the circle of life, to paraphrase Elton John by way of "The Lion King".

Except Elton probably couldn't come up with some inspiring lyrics to describe the smell along the banks of the Mohawk River. At first there will be the familiar stink of human waste, the cloying scent of feces mixed with the stinging ammonia of stale urine. That will eventually give way to the rich organic funk of rotting plants as the remains of the algal bloom fueled by the sewage decays over the next few days.

And all of that will happen miles downstream from where the sewage is pouring into the river.