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11 Rivers Forced Underground…

Today is World Water Day, and a good time to reflect on rivers, the lifeblood of many plant, animal, and human communities. Yet many of the world’s rivers have been dammed, degraded, polluted, and overdrawn at alarming rates.

Some of the world’s great rivers, from the Colorado to the Indus, don’t always reach their ends because people have diverted so much water for agriculture, industry, and municipal uses. Other rivers have been completely covered over by development, as people attempted to “tame” nature by ending flooding and maximizing usable land area.

But what happens to once-thriving freshwater ecosystems when the rivers they depend on are entombed in sewer pipes beneath layers of concrete and soil? Few species can make the transition to subterranean living. Ironically, it was often rivers and streams that attracted people in the first place, but those very sources of life can fall victim to the expanding concrete jungle.

This was the case in the late 1800s for Sunswick Creek in the Queens section of New York City. Appearing on maps in the 1870s, Sunswick Creek was soon completely covered over. Now, it exists only as a meager flow through buried sewer-like pipes, as documented in this photo by Steve Duncan.

Duncan notes that the burial process appears to have occurred in multiple phases, based on his explorations of the dank channels.

Brian Clark Howard

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