The nearby Mississippi River rose before winter’s end, and the water rushed into Nahant Marsh before the ice melted out. Flooding is a frequent occurrence in the wetlands, indeed, the fluctuating water levels are a big factor in making wetlands very diverse and productive environments. Unlike past floods, this one was of astonishing duration.
The long flood rolled in before the long, cold, and very snowy winter moved out. The great river swelled with melting snow. As winter snows gave way to spring rains the river stayed high. The river crested, then crested again and again, never once falling out of flood stage. During the highest of the crests—which set a new record, 99% of Nahant Marsh was under water.
While record setting floods made the national news, and record setting rains kept farmers out of muddy fields, Nahant Marsh managed the deep water just as nature intended. The flooding river spread out over the meadows and through the river-bottom forest instead of being channeled downstream right away. The water pooled and stilled instead of rushing on even deeper and much swifter.
Such a long flood and so rainy a spring changed many peoples’ plans. Saturated fields delayed planting crops. Overburdened hesco barriers gave way, inundating businesses and homes in the flood plain. The Education Center at Nahant Marsh was inaccessible to the public for a large part of the spring. Events had to be canceled and education programs relocated.
The wild things went about their business as best they could. The plants grew and bloomed as the water level allowed. Birds nested and hatched babies. The eagle pair nesting at Nahant Marsh this year have an eaglet high in a cottonwood tree. The sandhill crane pair, whose nest was barely above the level of the water, probably had their nest overwhelmed by one of the many rising crests. The flood favors some, destroys others, and the wetland goes on.
Just five short years ago, in 2012, a profound drought nearly dried the marsh completely out, and this year—deep water for three long months. Always there is change. As summer solstice arrived the river finally dropped below flood stage. The brown “bathtub ring” left behind, space empty of foliage and draped with debris, illustrated clearly the enormous area once occupied by water. A huge amount of water. But the high water line already is softened by growing green—always there is change. Whether the next flood is years away or days away—the rainy pattern does not seem to have ended yet—there certainly will be another. And the wetland will accommodate it.