Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Myth busting...

The DRBC today released its report on the role that the reservoirs played in the recent three Delaware River floods. I haven't had time to digest it but the Delaware River Basin Commission's interagency study group concluded that the reservoirs played at best, a minor roll.

Their conclusion is not news to me. I've instinctively known this to be true and have spent years gathering data and anecdotal information to help understand the issue. What has been most distressing is having to watch the myth that the floods were largely man-made and caused by mismanagement of the three drinking water supply reservoirs located in upstate New York. The "reservoirs did it" myth took root like Japanese Knotweed and become a pervasive belief among residents of the river valley. The DRBC and others did not effectively respond to the myth makers' emotional-based narrative.

This is a timely topic because now that the ground is saturated, the coming winter freeze will lock in this background condition and create a higher flood threat for 2010. Flooding along the Delaware is an infinitely complex topic. It's simple and satisfying to believe that the floods will stop if only the powers that be manage the reservoirs.

That myth is more comforting than the terrifying truth that floods are random acts of nature.

The truth is that flooding is natural, desirable and beneficial for the river and its complex ecology. Above all, flooding is inevitable. Only a fool would live on a floodplain believing they can do so without consequence, if only the reservoirs were kept below 80% capacity. Unfortunately, there are many who believe this and they are no friends of the river.

There are at least 4 distinct types of floods, each with its own set of background conditions. And that's the beginning point for the book of Delaware River floods. I can't keep my eyes open so it will have to be written another day.