Tuesday, January 03, 2006

After the storm there was the flood

The big storm that caused so much destruction on the mainland did not leave the Farallones untouched. Because of the heavy rain, the meager soil layer on the island was finally so saturated with water that a lake suddenly formed around the PRBO house. The elevated cartpath had blocked all the runoff, and this was the sight that greeted us when we opened our front door in the morning to go out to the beach.

It wasn't just our house that was threatened with the fate of Atlantis; water all over the island was looking for the shortest route to the sea. Another obstacle in its path, the Pipe Shop near East Landing. The back wall of the shop has sprouted a fountain and the water now runs freely in the Pipe Shop through the back wall and out the front door in a steady stream.

Meanwhile back at the house the water was still rising, the flood alarms for our wastewater system were set off and were screaming over the island. The water also found it's way in the crawlspace under the house. The situation started to get desperate, something had to be done!

So Derek blew up the levee to save the town! Raised in the delta, he was familiar with this crude but effective tactic, the Lodi solution worked like a charm.

With the old drain pipe re-excavated the way for future floodwaters is now free again. The 120-year-old Lightkeepers House survived once more by the ingenuity of the island personel.

PRBO's partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service is to monitor the biological resources, and to maintain a presence on the island to care for all its structures and systems. Most of the year, PRBO biologists are the only people on the island and are responsible for keeping the electricity, drinking water, and wastewater all flowing properly. Every structure is over 50 years old, some much older, and all require constant maintenance. Machinery does not enjoy the marine environment, and as such, equipment is constantly breaking down. We are completely off the grid, self-sufficient for our power, water, sewage, and communications. There are no plumbers or electricians to make a house call, we have to fix everything ourselves. Or if we can't fix it, patch it up until the next boat can bring a replacement part, or Jesse, the Refuge's Mr. Fix-it, sometimes three or more weeks down the road. Life on the Farallones is every day a magnificient wild nature spectacle, but the Farallon Factor looms large over our island systems, and it's never too long before we're up to our elbows in grease or up to our ankles in wastewater.

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