Sunday, April 15, 2007

MAKING OF A MYTH: the Reservoirs Did It!

The sign was supposed to read "Local Stream Ecology" but some creative person rearranged it and I just happened to catch it with the camera. It was my first and only speaking engagement in a church, back in 1989. Well, maybe church is a stretch given the denomination. Locals do ream ecology however, and many who don't know the difference between a headwater and a tailwater are promoting a specious narrative about how the last three floods came about.

That's the title of a future blog and it is a reaction the growing hysteria that has overcome so many self-decribed "river rats." Trouble is, unlike rats, which are fairly smart creatures, people whose ability to think is impaired by their anger and fear are most decidedly not smart, especially when these particular emotions are spawned by profound ignorance.

Here is an example of the not-so-smart reasoning from a "river rat" whose only apparent credentials are having lived along the Delaware River in New Hope for twenty years.

In making the case that the past three floods would have not occured except for mismanagement of the three NYC reservoirs located in the Catskill headwaters, this "river rat" points to Hurricane Floyd, when the reservoirs were below 80% capacity, and the river did not flood. Problem with this logic is this: Floyd visited in the midst of a prolonged drought, and the pounding tropical storm fell on parched land that absorbed much of the storm's wicked punch. The heaviest bands of rain fell in the lower watershed, specifically between the Water Gap and Milford NJ/UBE. Many tributaries flooded, but the Delaware stayed within its banks. The reservoirs were not full precisely because we were into a serious drought, the land was dryed out, water table low etc.

Floyd is but one phony example that the "river rats" are using to make the specious case that all their flooding woes are the result of reservoir mismanagement; as if what happens in 10% of the entire drainage basin completely controls what happens downstream. The architects of the MYTH are holding a public mass hysteria meeting this week at the New Hope firehouse and the local media will cover it to be sure.

The MYTH already has taken hold so deeply that it's doubtful that any amount of reason will root it out. After all, wouldn't it be so comforting to believe that the floods are the result of human error and incompetence? That would imply that the flooding could be prevented simply by changing policy. Keep the reservoirs at 75% and we''ll all be high and dry, happily inhabiting our floodplains without a worry.

What is the alternative? To believe that the floods are a random act of nature? An act of God?

Well guess what? Floodplains flood. Keep the reservoirs at 60% and flooding will still occur in this river's floodplain. People who live on it do so completely at the mercy of nature. Manmade influences (reservoirs and development) do count, but not anywhere remotely close to the degree people would like to believe, or have been led to believe.

Well that's my rant for today and maybe the week. I will be writing more comprehensively about this topic soon...any day now. So much BS to clean up.

Meanwhile, it's raining cats and dogs and the river is rising and the reservoirs are full!

-- "He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair."
Henry David Thoreau

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