Thursday, July 06, 2006

Barometer Falling

The Delaware River Basin Commission public hearing scheduled for July 19 was to take up the issue of banking excess release quantities of water in the NYC reservoirs, but I have just learned that this is off the table, mainly because New Jersey never signed on tothe agreement (which requires all parties) and the drought warnings were lifted. DRBC will have something posted to that effect very shortly.

Now back to our regular programming.

Three relatively cool dry days in store before we return to hot and humid conditions on Sunday and all next week; no major storm events on the horizon.

I check both the National Weather Service (or Weather Channel) and AccuWeather every morning and evening, and I've found AccuWeather is slightly more accurate when it comes to predicting precipitation amounts. They use the same satellite data, but apparently use different modeling technique. When there is the threat of flooding, I go with whoever has predicted the highest rainfall amount.

As it appears the river and its tributaries will be falling back to near normal levels, attention will be turned to flood related topics, none more important than investigating the causes of the June 29 Flood. By far the most popular theory among the single-minded set is: The reservoirs did it. Or more accurately, the people who control the reservoirs did it to US. Some people are specifically referring to the three large NYC Water Supply Reservoirs. The rest don't have a clue, they just like simple explanations, and the reservoir scapegoat is the easiest to grasp, and also will be the easiest to debunk, unless of course it turns out to be true.

And it won't in this case. The raw data can be found here. A debunking viewpoint can be found in today's issue of the Pocono Record that claims the reservoirs help control flooding.

The development-caused-it single explanation is also lame, but since this flood was the result of so much rain in the Poconos, this needs to be looked at. The filling of wetlands is a major source of flooding in general, and this problem impacts the Poconos and its tributaries to the Delaware more than any other region in the 13,000 sq. mi. Delaware River Basin. That is because the Poconos are glaciated, and covered with water (streams, lakes, ponds, marshes, bogs etc.). Those nasty Nationwide 26 Permits the Army Corps gives out to developers may be significant part of the flood problem, both locally and furter downstream in the Lehigh and Lackawaxen Rivers.

Here is a story about the Nationwide Permit program and its impacts on Monroe County (in the heart of the Poconos). Ed Perry of US Fish & Wildlife Service is an expert in this area and does one hell of a presentation about how building in wetlands exacerbates flooding.

I believe all the single-reason explanations are BS. But it will take some research to make my own case. In the meantime there are many other more important issues, like how many property owners in the most vulnerable areas of the floodplain will pack it in, and how much money is available for buy-outs?

Regardless of what one thinks about the flooding and its causes, we wouldn't be having any of these discussions if so many didn't live on the river's turf (AKA the floodplain). The Delaware River will continue to rise up to reclaim its turf regardless of whatever manipulations are made to the system. Some municipalities, like the Borough of Riegelsville, PA are getting wise and forbidding development in the floodplain. Most municipalities along the river have pathetically weak floodplain regulations.

There are already many homes along the Lower Delaware River that have been for sale since April '05. Who would buy one now? How many more will be on the market? Such discussions are already underway in Bucks County.


J.Nase said...

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. - Douglas Adams

Gard said...


Re: Reservoirs
Thanks for your very informative blog on this issue.

One issue still bothers me. It was touched on by Mayor Conway at the Delaware Water Gap - The reservoirs may not be the problem, but could they be more effective in being part of the solution? Could(or did)the reservoir managers release water in advance of the flood so as to allow the reservoirs to take in, rather than release water during the peak of the flood?



rivergeek said...

Thanks for the question Gard:

I believe the issue you raise is a good one and will surely be a point of contentious discussion at the next DRBC public hearing.

All of the record floods of the past hundred plus years fall into two categories: hurricane induced and snow melt/ice jams, except for last week. That was a slow moving tropical depression, sort of a light weight version of Agnes. The time of year may have some bearing on when or how much water to store or release.

There has been discussion about lowering reservoir levels in proportion to the expected amount of return from snow melt. This seems like a no brainer that could limit the impact of an April '05 type event.

On the other hand it takes a long time to lower the NYC reservoirs in a meaningful way, so I am not sure a program of trying to release in advance of a predicted storm would work very well in the spring when NY strives to have its reservoirs full by June. Let's imagine a scenario where the reservoirs are near full during May and an early big storm is PREDICTED to come up and linger for awhile, and instead it slips out into the Atlantic. Then region is afflicted by a severe drought. Two million people are running out of water. Or is it 3 million? Too lazy to look that up right now.

I don't know what the answer is really. But I know "better management" means different things to different and often competing interests. Indeed, better management can be achieved, but any changes, deletions or additions to policy must agreed upon by all four Delaware River Basin Governors and the POTUS too. That is what the basin compact requires.

I may attend the DRBC hearing on the 19th. One point I want to make is that DRBC needs to step up its efforts to educate the public about the reservoir system - not just the NYCs but all of it. But then they probably already know that. The ability of DRBC to do science and education has been compromised by certain entities who have reneged on their agreement to keep DRBC fully functioning (POTUS and Pataki). How ironic! NY takes water from the Delaware, ships over to the Hudson at NYC and they won't even pay their dues.

There is so much misinformation floating around (hope i am not contributing to it), much of it the result of general ignorance about the how the system functions. Look at what is going on with the Special Protection Waters issue between PA and NJ. And that is a very simple issue compared to floods.

Regarding education about the reservoir system, one thing about the Pocono Record article that made me wonder was the DRBC guy's use of the word "release." My understanding is that the reservoirs were over-spilling, quite a different thing from an intentional release.

Sorry for this semi-rambling answer, but as you know, these watershed issues are interelated.