Stephanie C. Fox

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A Water Depletion Tour and Photo Gallery.

On Sunday, September 11, 2016, a beautiful sunny day, my father invited me to get my camera and go with him on a long car ride to tour the Barkhamstead and Colebrook Lake reservoirs. I accepted.

My father is a retired city and regional planner, with a Master of Philosophy from the University College London, School Planning (1968). He put himself through that program with his camera, and had been an expert in photography since he was a teenager, when he assisted his father, who made educational films.

Consequently, he has taught me everything I know about taking great photographs, and given me a camera to work with. (He knows a lot more about this than I do – he’s into it. He’s very, very into it.)

We drove off into the sunshine from Bloomfield, heading through Simsbury and then West Simsbury to the Barkhamstead Reservoir.

The Barkhampstead Reservoir and the Saville Dam in Connecticut. The dam is 135 feet tall and 1,950 feet long. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

The Barkhamstead Reservoir and the Saville Dam in Connecticut. The dam is 135 feet tall and 1,950 feet long. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Although my father had photographed this spot many times, I hadn’t, so I insisted upon stopping to do so. I think the granite stone and wooden doors in the Barkhamstead reservoir building are beautiful, and I wanted a few images of my own of it and of the Saville Dam, which captures the water for that reservoir. He obliged by pulling into the parking area on the north side of the western end of the dam, and I got a few shots that showed the iconic structure that readers of The Hartford Courant have seen whenever the water supply makes the news.

We got back into the car and continued north.

It was a story in that same newspaper that had motivated our trip, one about the Colebrook Lake reservoir, which was created in the 1950s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Charles A. Goodwin Dam. It caused Route 8 to be flooded out, far underwater, and a new one carved out to the west. It also erased a small town from the map.

The Ghost Bridge and Highway of Colebrook River Lake | Peter Marteka – September 10, 2016

The Colebrook River Reservoir bridge, with the flag at half-mast on September 11th, 2016. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

The Colebrook River Reservoir bridge, with the flag at half-mast on September 11th, 2016. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

I saw the bridge over the dam at the southern end of the reservoir and decided to walk across it. My father gave me a car key in case I wanted to get back into the vehicle, and I started walking and taking photographs.

Flag flying at half-mast on September 11, 2016 at the Colebrook River Reservoir bridge. (Stephanie C. Fox)

Flag flying at half-mast on September 11, 2016 at the Colebrook River Reservoir bridge. (Stephanie C. Fox)

I walked as far as the structure on the bridge, which was built of the same pretty materials as the Barkhamstead Reservoir one.

Colebrook River Reservoir Bridge, with the service building plaque. The year on it is 1929, the year that the Metropolitan District Commission was established by the Connecticut Legislature. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Colebrook River Reservoir Bridge, with the service building plaque. The year on it is 1929, the year that the Metropolitan District Commission was established by the Connecticut Legislature. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

On the way back, I paused for a moment to see the plaques and photograph them.

The Charles A. Goodwin Dam - 1960. The bridge is beautiful, and it tops the dam. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

The Charles A. Goodwin Dam – 1960. The bridge is beautiful, and it tops the dam. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

On the far side of the structure, I encountered a hobbyist ornithologist with a small telescope on a tripod, plus a pair of binoculars. He was looking at cormorants and a great heron. He invited me to look at it, too, so I saw it wading on the right, where the water level had gone down considerably.

The view from the bridge at the Colebrook Reservoir, where the water level is way down. A great heron is at the extreme left, wading. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

The view from the bridge at the Colebrook Reservoir, where the water level is way down. A great heron is at the extreme left, wading. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Next, I looked north to see the other part of the dam, which enclosed a huge portion of the Colebrook River to make the reservoir.

View from the Charles A. Goodwin Dam of the Colebrook River Reservoir. The water level is down due to a drought. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

View from the Charles A. Goodwin Dam of the Colebrook River Reservoir. The water level is down due to a drought. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

After that, I turned around to see my father driving up – he had 2 car keys! That was a relief; it meant that he wasn’t fuming back at the other end of the bridge. He knew I would take off with my camera to see everything, and I walk fast. I got in, had him slow down and pause for a couple more images, and we drove off, heading for the site of a town that was removed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make war for the reservoir.

The southernmost end of the area we visited next was on the northern side of the Colebrook River Lake, which is enclosed by a pair of dams.

The elevation at the bottom of the lake is 597 feet above sea level.

The water level is currently at 637 feet, which means that it has 40 feet of water in it.

When filled to capacity, the water level is 710 feet above sea level.

This means that the drought has brought the water level down by 73 feet.

That’s a lot. Naysayers of ecosystems collapse and drought insist that the rains will return, the drought will end, and the water will rise again.

Really? When will these replenishing torrents come, and by just how much will they actually raise the depleted supply?

Who knows.

The Metropolitan District Commission, established by the Connecticut State Legislature, is a toothless entity in terms of conservation.

We found that out this year when the Bloomfield mayor and town council did an end run around the legal requirement to the public of notice and the right to be heard, contacting out to a California water bottling corporation – Niagara Bottling – the right to pump 1.8 million gallons per day of our water, put it into plastic bottles, and truck it elsewhere to be sold.

If we don’t have enough to water our gardens and thus grow some of our own food, we will know the reason why.

Shorter and fewer baths and showers…less drinking and cooking water…less for washing our clothes…good times are coming!

That was part of what captured our interest as my father and I went on this photography field trip.

It was a fun history tour on a beautiful day, even if the reasons behind it and the things we learned were ominous.

The name of the town had been Colebrook River Village. It was all bought up and demolished, with the exception of an iron bridge, now called Ghost Bridge. We wanted to see it in person after reading about it in the newspaper. It was rusted orange, far below the old Route 8, and people and dogs were walking on and around it.

Today, my father informed me that Ghost Bridge will be removed and sold for scrap. We saw it with large boulders blocking people from driving on it. He said that the structure itself was sound and strong enough to support a motor vehicle – even a tractor trailer truck – but that the supports at either end of the bridge were questionable. On Sunday, people were walking on it with their dogs and having a lovely day of it. Today, there was yellow tape all over the place. I’m glad we went there while the view for photographs was uninterrupted by that tape!

This iron bridge, called the Ghost Bridge, is all that remains of the Colebrook River Village. Soon it will be removed and sold for scrap. The entire town was bought up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be flooded as a reservoir in the 1950s and 1960s. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

This iron bridge, called the Ghost Bridge, is all that remains of the Colebrook River Village. Soon it will be removed and sold for scrap. The entire town was bought up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be flooded as a reservoir in the 1950s and 1960s. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

We stood on the wooded old Route 8 and looked down through the trees at the people and dogs enjoying the trickle that was the Colebrook River.

We weren’t about to walk all the way down there; it was steep.

We could see sand bars as we looked farther north in the Colebrook Reservoir. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

We could see sand bars as we looked farther north in the Colebrook Reservoir. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Just south of Ghost Bridge were sand bars in the river. North of it was a nearly-dry riverbed.

North of Ghost Bridge is very little water. The fish are gone, and the drought was early enough in the summer that green plants have begun to grow where the water receded. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

North of Ghost Bridge is very little water. The fish are gone, and the drought was early enough in the summer that green plants have begun to grow where the water receded. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

My father wanted to drive as far north as possible on the once-submerged old Route 8, so we got back into the car and drove on, pausing now and then to photograph the riverbed. No fish could live in it now.

Old tree stumps, hewn by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have been exposed by the drought as the Colebrook River drained away. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Old tree stumps, hewn by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have been exposed by the drought as the Colebrook River drained away. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

People were up here too, and we saw a guy way across the riverbed, having a fine time on a dirt bike.

A view looking back at Ghost Bridge to where there is still water in the reservoir. The water in the Colebrook River is usually much higher, not a mere trickle north of the bridge. It was so low that people could walk with their dogs and bike along it. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

A view looking back at Ghost Bridge to where there is still water in the reservoir. The water in the Colebrook River is usually much higher, not a mere trickle north of the bridge. It was so low that people could walk with their dogs and bike along it. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

I wanted to go back and photograph Ghost Bridge from another vantage point, still from up on the old Route 8. My father wanted to see some other things, so I began to walk south, shooting image after image, getting closer and closer to the bridge. I had a sense of urgency about it, as if this was my last chance to get pretty photographs of this. It turned out that I was right, because of that yellow tape. I didn’t want images of the bridge with that.

People enjoyed walking across the old iron Ghost Bridge, and they parked jeeps and other vehicles near it, but huge boulders prevented them from driving across it. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

People enjoyed walking across the old iron Ghost Bridge, and they parked jeeps and other vehicles near it, but huge boulders prevented them from driving across it. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Petrified, dried-out tree stumps lay here and there as I walked south, including one felled tree, uprooted and long forgotten underwater, but now fully visible.

An old tree that had lain under the Colebrook River after it was dammed and flooded for the reservoir. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

An old tree that had lain under the Colebrook River after it was dammed and flooded for the reservoir. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

I kept going, until I got one last shot of Ghost Bridge, deciding that that was close enough for a good photograph.

Another view of the Ghost Bridge, all that remains of the Colebrook River Village. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Another view of the Ghost Bridge, all that remains of the Colebrook River Village. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

At that point, I turned back to join my father at the car. He was chatting with some people who had paused on the road. When I got there, we got into the car and drove south, pausing at Ghost Bridge one more time (he hadn’t taken a photograph of that yet!). Then it was back south, pausing a few more times to appreciate the evidence of water depletion by the dam.

As we left Ghost Bridge behind us, we saw what seemed to me to be an eerie sight.

Exposed bank on the west side of the drought-lowered Colebrook River. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Exposed bank on the west side of the drought-lowered Colebrook River. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

We went all the way back to the dam and looked at it.

Close-up of the north side of the dam in the Colebrook River, showing more than half of it exposed, plus the riverbanks, which show fresh evidence of the lowered water level. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Close-up of the north side of the dam in the Colebrook River, showing more than half of it exposed, plus the riverbanks, which show fresh evidence of the lowered water level. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

It really looked as though a giant had sucked up more than half of a bowl of water, but that giant was actually a lot of humans draining it together.

A close-up view of the north side of the dam, with its MDC apparatus exposed. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

A close-up view of the north side of the dam, with its MDC apparatus exposed. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

I was fascinated by the way the land – the shores – of the river looked. The water level was much too low for boating, but boat ramps were apparent.

A close-up of the Colebrook Reservoir north of the Goodwin Dam. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

A close-up of the Colebrook Reservoir north of the Goodwin Dam. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Looking every which way, I decided I had to photograph it all, so I kept going.

All around the water just north of the dam we saw the evidence of a water level having been depleted due to the summer drought. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

All around the water just north of the dam we saw the evidence of a water level having been depleted due to the summer drought. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

Each side of it showed how much water was missing from the river. It looks missing, even though human engineers had changed the natural landscape to capture more water for human use.

A view of the north side of the dam, showing that the water level is way down due to the drought of Summer 2016. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

A view of the north side of the dam, showing that the water level is way down due to the drought of Summer 2016. (Photograph by Stephanie C. Fox)

If anyone is concerned about water depletion in Connecticut, it’s worth seeing this in person. Photographs in one’s local newspaper are great for informing the public that someone is wrong, but they’re not enough. Go and see it for yourself. There will be plenty of lovely, sunny days in which to do so for the next several weeks.

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