A song about wetland hydrology might be, “Only here for a little while.” Visit this wetland just east of Oskaloosa on any particular day, and you might find a field of dry cracked mud, or standing water to your knees (I’ve seen both, on different visits). American engineers sometimes measure water in units of “acre-feet,” the volume sitting on an acre of land to a depth of 12 inches. So at Maskunky Marsh, that could be about 50 acres at 24 inches, so 100 acre-feet.
That’s a lot of water…but it comes and goes. The photo below shows one route of transit for the water, a French Drain. Basically it’s a buried pipe connecting the wetland with the nearby South Skunk River. The pipe is nearly horizontal, and buried at just the right elevation to receive water when the river is swollen, and not otherwise. It effectively acts as an overflow valve for the river, with the marsh capturing river water under high-flow conditions.
This is good news for farmers and homeowners along the river downstream. The water filling up Maskunky Marsh, is not filling up their fields, lawns or basements. Of course, the water in the marsh doesn’t stay there…it will slowly recharge the ground water, and evaporate into the air. In the meantime, it has brought nutrients to the plants and algae, boosting the entire food chain. Birds swam in it and nested on islands in the midst of it. Animals swam and ate and reared young in it. Shutterbugs snapped photos of sunrise reflecting off of it. And I pondered the hydrologic cycle as I looked across the water…for a little while.