Will Rivers Run Through Us?


    A River Runs Through it was written by University of Chicago Shakespeare Professor Norman Maclean after his retirement. His memoir is a story about Montana fly fishing, a father’s faith and ministry and a family’s failure to avoid tragedy.
    Throughout history, rivers have also run through Orinda. Our creeks often offer solace, but heavy rainfall across watersheds and down canyons can turn creeks to rivers and even deadly debris flows. Since 1850, scientists like Clausius and Clapeyron have proved many times over that a warming atmosphere holds a greater amount of water vapor. This year, NASA satellites caution us there is an unusually high amount of water vapor circulating around the world. We have seen evidence of those cloud rivers as they turned into floods from Yellowstone to Pakistan. There were even two rain-delayed playoff games weeks ago in arid San Diego.
    It is the extremes, more frequent and more intense, we need to prepare for. We may suffer through more record-breaking drought for years to come, but at the same time, this can be punctuated by a series of stalled atmospheric rivers. One such event followed a drought lasting 20 years when 30 days of rain and snowmelt between Christmas Eve, 1861, and January 24, 1862 flooded 300 miles of the San Joaquin Valley, and forced Gov. Stanford to return home from his Sacramento inauguration by rowboat. The Capital was moved to San Francisco. California went bankrupt.
    Rainfall distributed over a winter refreshes gardens and recharges aquifers. But prolonged excessive rain saturates hillsides, triggers landslides, washes out roads and cuts utilities to homes. In 2019, a woman barely survived a ride inside her Sausalito home as it slid down a rain sodden hillside collapse, and in 2018, my friend’s sister was killed in her Montecito doorway by a catastrophic debris flow.
    The coming holidays are a time for celebration, but not time to forget “go-bags.” We evacuate from hazards in part to spare firefighters and rescuers from risk. Firefighters frantically escaped debris flows in August during the McKinley Fire. Homes on roads with a single exit need special plans, because engines may be blocked and helicopter rescues are not always immediate. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data and warnings will enable us to get out early and save our search and rescue volunteers from danger from the rivers that would run through us.
    A River Runs Through It is a classic of American literature, a testament to the vulnerability, but also the resiliency of a family bound by devotion to the magic of a trout stream. Also highly recommended is West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow, by B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam. Both are available at Orinda Books just in time for holiday giving.

Michael Roemer can be reached at mikeroemer@gmail.com.

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