WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Another Major Passaic River Flood
Friday, March 11, 2011
Even though the rain has stopped in New Jersey, flooding will be a significant issue for the next several days, especially along the Passaic River.
David Robinson is the state's Climatologist at Rutgers University.
"If you live on the main stem of the Passaic River, you still have several days before the flooding maxes out," warned Robinson. "The crest is expected sometime Sunday and then it is going to be very slow to come down."
Robinson says back-to-back major rain events, along with twice the average snow fall in parts of the state, have left the ground saturated with water.
"The snowfall really depended on where you live," said Robinson. The northeast portion of the state has seen some 60 inches already, or about a 200 percent increase above the average annual accumulation. "Central was about 50 inches of snow," almost as much as spike in the northeast said Robinson. The northwest region got off pretty lightly by comparison, either close to prior years' averages or even slightly below.
Robinson says over the last several years, major flooding events have happened with much greater frequency along the state's Delaware, Raritan and Passaic Rivers.
Robinson says this weekend, flooding along the Passaic could be of near-historic proportions.
Looking at the Passaic the trend is clear. "When all is said adn done, the Passaic gauge at Little Falls may come in with five of the nine largest floods of the last century, all occurring since 1999," said Robinson.
Robinson conceded that an increase in upstream development in the Highlands, along with the increase in impervious cover like parking lots, could make matters worse. He said it can really increase the velocity of the flood waters.
But if you are trying to explain the sheer volume of rain "you have to look to Mother Nature," said Robinson. According to Robinson, that trend of great precipitation should prompt more study on a potential linkage between global warming and increased rain fall.
New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, whose distinct includes some of the hardest hit Passaic towns, said Pompton Lakes, Lincoln Park, Wayne, Little Falls and Paterson all face flood management problems He said the increasing frequency and severity of the floods is hitting his constituents hard.
"You got to cry when you see what they have lost when there is a flood like this," said Pascrell. "It has happened six or seven times in the last four or five years. We need to begin to say we need to change things."
Pascrell said a review of existing dams and water infrastructure that has been ignored for decades is key. After a few years of pushing, Pascrell said he finally got the Army Corps of Engineers to start a study of the flood gates on the Pompton River.
But he said part of the problem is a legacy of over-development that reduces the natural watershed area in and around the flood plain to help retain rain water. "That's why I fought the construction of 25 new homes in Little Falls," recalled Pascrell.
Earlier this week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told WNYC that such purchases could be part of a comprehensive long term flood control strategy.
"In the long haul, it’s going to be a combination of things," said Christie. "We have to look at flood control projects that need to be federally sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers in places like the Passaic River area. We also have to decide -- do we wanna bite the bullet and just buy some of these folks out that are in the flood plains. Because in some of these areas, in the Passaic River area, there may be no way to really fix the problem."
Last year after catastrophic flooding along the Passaic, Governor Christie appointed a panel of experts to look at how best to deal with the chronic flooding problem. Last month they reported back with 15 recommendations.
The experts raised the possibility of a building moratorium on the flood plains in the eastern Highlands in and around the Pompton Valley and Watchung Mountains. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Bob Martin is expected to follow-up on the expert panels findings.