Urban Kayaking

-- Last Updated: Sep-14-12 7:28 PM EST --

Does the fact that many rivers in heavily urbanized
city settings suffer from strong stormwater surge
- deter - anyone from playing in the dirty water ?

Stormwater scours the parking lots, highways/streets,
industrial parks sliding oil/petroleum films into the
rain drains along with pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers
from millions of residential houses and golf courses.

Do people believe the Public Health reports that the
drains are nice, clean, healthy and free from contaminants;
or just don't care--woohoo its water,
lets go paddle ?

So many places across the USA still have combined
drainage systems involving rain water & sewage overflow
flowing into their local rivers, streams, creeks and lakes.

Wow, your post
makes me appreciate living in Vancouver even more. City paddling in the ocean - I love it!

stinky waters
With a semi drought here in Western PA plus occasional short downpours that cause overflows into the waterways of combined storm runoff and sewage, the major urban rivers here have been pretty smelly this summer. I carry hand sanitizer and wash off both the gear and myself after each outing. Kind of a drag, but the sanitation authority is working on the problem.

Metro Detroit - Michigan
Michigan has about 10 million people

  • 5 million live in the greater metro Detroit area.

    On the other side of Lake St. Clair is Windsor Ontario

    –also heavily populated and urbanized.

Here in Kansas City
We have a combined drainage system. The concept is crazy! There is actually an official sign on one of the bridges over the Missouri River here that says “Do not swim in the river 72 hours after a rainfall”.

runoff too
Even without combined pipes, drainage from surface runoff is contaminated. I was prone to ear infections from polluted water and my doc suggested alcohol drops in the ears (isopropyl with a few drops of white vinegar in it) and I’ve had no more ear infections. Watch scratches on the skin for infections.

What do you mean by playing?
If you mean plain go from point A to B and back again paddling, aside from spring floods and large objects going over the dams, paddling goes on.

If you mean what I usually think of as playing, going out to mess with wet work like trying out new rescues and rolls, that does not happen in high water as above in the local rivers. At times like that the sewage treatment plants are allowed to exceed their discharge limits (everywhere as far as I know, not just NY state).

Try Doc’s Plugs
The vented ones. You can still hear, but they keep water out.

Acclimatizing to Icky
Yes, it’s a problem. I paddle / water train my water rescue service Newf in Oregon City near Portland on the Willamette / Clackamas Rivers, and paddle all over the place.

So every time I paddle, I swim and play in the water also.

First couple times did get sick, but no longer. Must have built a tolerance and immunity. The joy of paddling and training exceeds the caution.

Would not go out in the hours after a downpour.

Noticed a couple days ago, 3 months without rain, not only is water getting low but scuzz starting to clog surface in non circulating places, so will definitely avoid that, and any signs of algae etc. Means going a little closer to the current and not hugging shore quite so tightly.

worth a shot
Thanks - will give them a try and see if I can get used to them.

Lake St. Clair - Detroit / Windsor

– Last Updated: Sep-15-12 1:31 PM EST –

An example is Lake St. Clair and the tributaries
that dump into it from Canada and the USA


The USA and Canada finally (after 25 years)
renewed/updated a bi-national pact that takes
a more “prevention-oriented” approach.

I often ask people:
-do you say “sewer” when you mean “storm water” ?
Water falling from the sky,
onto our concrete/blacktop jungles;
isn't sewage, but it isn't clean after
it touches everything sliding into rivers.

An alternate view of Detroit

You recently raced at Kensington…
Were you concerned? I’ve talked with people at Ford Lake (a large S.E. Michigan Lake within the Huron River Chain) that seem to think the stuff floating on top of the water is just fine!

willi, I have paddled in filthy water,
both sewage filled and post storm surge, since 1960 when I was rowing and sculling on the Charles in Boston. I can’t associate any of my illnesses with paddling except a single GI episode after I pulled a water bottle out of my kayak and sucked on a muddy nozzle.

The health departments have developed their standards mainly for ocean beaches. They don’t seem to have data on illness in people paddling urban streams.

We have had trouble in Atlanta with the Park Service and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper using marginal science to warn people away from our metro river after storms. Those of us, paddlers and fishermen, who are actually using the river have not found this hysteria to be justified.

Atlanta is putting billions into separating sewage from storm runoff, and that’t the right thing to do. But in the meantime, I hate to see people scared off from having a good time on the river because of unproven risk warnings.

Good point about non-point source
runoff. That is one of the reasons dog walkers are encouraged to pick up the poop.

But we have to be realistic. Non-point source runoff is only going to get slowly worse as more and more land in cities like Atlanta is developed. Storm drain systems aren’t going to clean runoff to “acceptable” standards.

If we want to paddle, we have to accept that urban rivers are somewhat dirty. Or worse.

Guess what? Many rivers downstream of any sort of agriculture, or a rural chicken plant, or whatever, are dirty too. Our kids played in them, and didn’t get sick.

This could get to be like how excessive cleanliness sets kids up for asthma, etc. We need to realize that exposure to most bugs will foster better immunity.

A political point. If we scare people away from urban rivers, where will we find a large constituency to insist that those rivers be cleaned and beautified?

Raise the bar - or settle for okay
In my opinion, those that use the water should

consistently ask for the water conditions to improve.

Kayaking in Michigan has no “juice”, no political

leverage, no unifying body fighting for cleaner

water to paddle upon.

Fisherman buy licenses, their impact on the economy

is recorded, documented, substantiated, etc., etc.

are rural streams really any better?
agricultural runoff from pesticides, fertlizers and livestock waste… heavy erosion from poor land management practices… leaky septic fields and unregulated sewage pipes… old water treatment plants that aren’t up to city standards… PCBs and mercury from old factories and power plants in rural locations… heavy metals leaching from old mines… etc etc

Many waterways are "impaired"
Paddlers probably take more of an active interest

than most citizens who don’t have a clue.

Aggie waste
Ugh. Rural streams can be horribly polluted. I looked in horror at the opaque brown murk alongside cattle pastures as an Oregon river flowed to the coast. At least that one was obvious. The pollution from mining isn’t always so obvious. Clear water isn’t always unpolluted.

But have you ever tried inner tubing the
irrigation channels? Watched my sister and her kids tubing a channel as the San Miguel dropped away below it.

I’m sure the ranchers don’t like that, but my sister lives in Durango and pays CO taxes same as they do.

There is hope for our waterways
There are local efforts to improve waterway quality. Our state (PA) has had a program for several years where the state picks up most of the tab for making improvements to pastures located along waterways to restrict runoff and prevent stock from polluting and damaging banks. My boyfriend has 40 some acres of agricultural land along the Susquehanna and the state helped him install a solar powered electric fence set back 50’ from the river plus they developed two springs to run watering troughs into his two pastures so stock would not be drawn to the river. We’ve seen improvements in the local waterways due to expansion of this program. And, as I mentioned earlier, the county wherein Pittsburgh lies is making serious efforts to correct the combined sewage and storm water situation. Our rivers had recovered so nicely from the horrible pollution of the steel-making era that we were able to host a national bass-fishing tournament several years ago. The city is justifiably proud of it’s rivers and there is a groundswell of support for keeping them clean. We’ve had to deal with the depredations of irresponsible gas fracking operators dumping bromides and other crap in the feeder streams but that seems to be abating with the slowdown in the gas drilling boom and the crackdowns on bad contractors.