Of Rivers and Restoration

Let me begin by saying this: I don’t know how I survived this day. I really don’t. Especially not after yesterday’s schedule. I was quite sure that I’d faint or worse today but somehow, I made it though the morning and afternoon sessions without getting anything worse than a stinging itch from a plant. In the morning, I woke up late so I had to rush breakfast to make it in time for the bus to the Megumi Park where we met up with around a dozen other people who would accompany us to the river walk along the Iwabokki Sluice and the (old) Kushiro river. Our guide for the morning was the Kushiro Salmon Society’s chairperson, Kosugi-san, with other members such as Shimizu-san. There was even a cameraman from NHK. The bus was unusually filled up with people as we rode to the sluice first. I’d imagined the sluice as old and unsteady but when we went around to the front, where its heavy, rusted gates held the water of the Kushiro river steady, I had to admit that the gate was still functioning (for better or for worse) even well after half a century of being built. The Iwabokki sluice is at the center of a heated, decades-long debate about whether it should be opened or not, to allow the Kushiro river to flow again and consequently, allow marine life such as salmon to come upstream. The main opposition is the fear of the accumulated sediment flowing into the Kushiro wetland and further causing the wetland area to decrease. To the Kushiro Salmon Society, however, it would be better to open the sluice to stop the stagnation of the river. We clearly saw the state of the Kushiro river as we walked along its banks for about two and a half hours. The path we walked on was a new path, where no one had ever gone before— fairly dangerous, I think. I almost slipped on the makeshift bridge at the beginning and actually slipped as we crossed the drainage area. In addition to that, we also had to fend off mosquitoes, horseflies and other species we disturbed in the area. As we walked, I observed that the water was only disturbed on the surface by insects— it was clear that the river’s depths remained fairly still, as it had been ever since the sluice was built. Of course, during heavy rainfall, such as the 3/11 storm, it would be disturbed but after that, it would return to its stagnancy. The riverbank was overgrown with ferns and some areas were cleared of plants. Kosugi-san (or was it Shimizu-san, I can’t remember very well) suggested that the plants were eaten by deer in the area. I was just glad he didn’t say bears. There were also some thorny plants on the other side of the river as we walked back to the bus.

After a late lunch, we went to the Kayanuma River Restoration Site, where we met Sugawara-san and his staff from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism. He was to guide us to two river restoration sites: one in Kayanuma and the other in Hororo. I wasn’t able to get close to the Kayanuma river because I was dizzy from the noontime heat but I did see that the river seemed to flow quite energetically due to the restoration. The water was also considerably clearer and cleaner than the water from the Kushiro river. In Hororo, however, I was able to get into the wetland since it was later in the afternoon and the heat wasn’t as bad as it was earlier. Sugawara-san explained that to get to the peat, the soft, wetland soil, they had to clear away about forty centimeters of topsoil. When I asked where the topsoil went, he simply answered that it was taken to places where they needed it. I had to wonder: Is that why they needed to plant trees along the riverbank? To hold the topsoil in place? And if the soil was only taken elsewhere, that meant that in due time, it would return to the wetland, making this “restoration” a temporary solution to the problem of the shrinking wetland. Anyway, I was hoping we’d go into the deeper part of the wetland but due to lack of time, we were only able to go to the fairly shallow area— my boots only sunk about five or six inches into the mud at most. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult to walk in the peat. If I stood still too long, I’d sink right into the ground.

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