The need to build along rivers is not unique to Fort Wayne. Throughout history, civilizations have located close to rivers to provide routes for transportation of many critical supplies and goods. But, growing cities brought construction of more and more buildings on the surface of the land surrounding the rivers, negatively impacting the ability of the land to absorb and re-distribute water.
The downward spiral of decades of generally unplanned building removed valuable drainage surface, increased runoff into rivers, and led to construction of more and more walls and levees to protect cities in jeopardy. Increased use of walls and levees only served to rearrange water flow rather than diminish its volume, triggering the need to build even more walls and levees. Dealing with rivers and their tendency to flood has become a vicious cycle – much of the cycle triggered by the doctrine of “unintended consequences”, or perhaps more along the line of lack of common sense and good, sound planning.
Today, many cities that in earlier days suffered through minor flooding events are prone to ever increasing disasters with greater quantities of water invading city realms. This is the result of not understanding and not appreciating river dynamics. Every action that we take impacts a watershed and, ultimately, a river somewhere, somehow.
Rivers are dynamic systems, often impacted by the “lay of the land”, or, in more technical terms, the geologic and geographical formation of underlying strata and surface features that guide and direct our river systems. Our own city, Fort Wayne, and our three rivers are impacted by location at the end of what once was the “Great Black Swamp“, an impressive and, in our early history, an all-but impassable area roughly 30-40 miles wide by 120 miles in length beginning near Toledo, Ohio, and ending at Fort Wayne.
Our area was created by glacial moraines receding some 20,000 years ago, leaving in their wake a virtually impassable area of swamps and marshlands. Early settlers drained the area and proceeded to farm and use what once was an unusable land area. But, simply draining the area did not change the “lay” of the land and that has impacted our area for thousands of years.
The color of our rivers comes from the contents they carry – typically sediment or dark particles – giving them their dark color. They will never be blue as the sky, and to wish so is folly. Although we have three rivers that meet at the confluence on the east side of downtown, the river that impacts virtually all of downtown is the St. Marys.
The City Council has approved up to $500,000 to be spent on a study to analyze every facet of Fort Wayne’s three rivers, and, in particular, the St. Marys, to establish potential use. The study has been let for bid and 13 companies submitted proposals. The selection of the company to prepare the study should be released any day now, and the City will move forward with plans based on the study.
But, caution must be used to guard against pressure from developers, real estate agents, and construction companies to force unwise plans that will further exacerbate our existing flooding issues. A beautiful and aesthetically pleasing river environment will go far to enhance our City, but, ultimately, plans must not become simply a path to rush to development based on financial gain. Any plans must respect the nature of our rivers with the goal of integrating improvements into the river environment – not the typical philosophy of humans to impose their own will and often destructive practices.