What is Freshet? Spring flooding has a purpose

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Heavy thunderstorms and big spring rains make our area rivers swollen and brown -- keeping fisherman and sunbathers on the sidelines for a while.

It's called a freshet, and it's a rite of spring.  In colder climates, melting snow produces floods on major rivers.  Around here, it's our heavy spring rains that bring big rises on the James River.

Think of it as spring cleaning for the river.  The fast-moving water cleans the river of dirt, debris, trash, and geese excrement that can build up over the winter.

Of course it's a muddy mess.  The high water means lots of sediment roaring into the Chesapeake Bay. All of that sediment and pollution caused by human activity hurts the health of the bay.  In years when the spring runoff is extraordinarily high, all that fresh water can even mess with the ecology of the bay by changing its salinity.

Fishing is tough, too, when the water is high -- the shad run in Richmond pauses, as the fish hunker down and wait for the water to slow. So the fishermen have to wait, too, until water levels drop.

But there are positives to the freshet.  In particular to the James River Park System.  Park manager and naturalist Ralph White said the fast-moving water can scour out sediment from the river bed, exposing the rocky bottom. That's important for all kinds of animals who live and breed there.

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