Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From the Reel to Reality: The (Impending) Ramapo River Crisis

By Jon Lindenauer

As an essential source for supplying drinking and utility based water for southern New York and northern New Jersey, the Ramapo River spans a significant region of a dual-state area with a combined population of nearly thirty million. However, due to a number of preventable human factors, the Ramapo River faces falling standards of quality and preservation from a present condition that is already alarming. After examining various statistics and figures regarding the projected outlook of the crucial water source, a horrifying image for the prospects of the river and its beneficiaries comes to life.

In recent history, many of the world’s ecological woes have been highlighted in the world of cinema. Such documentaries as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Leonardo DiCaprio’s The 11th Hour have served to illustrate the global crisis in a more straightforward format, while fictional films – such as Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow and Pixar’s Wall-E – have sought to portray future shocks with a more extraordinary and metaphoric approach. Yet, in spite of the imaginary intent of Hollywood environmental doomsday features, the reality of the situation is gradually becoming more and more aligned with fantasy depictions.

The greatest threat to the already precarious state of the Ramapo River region is the rising water levels. According to a Metropolitan East Coast infrastructure assessment (part of a national assessment spearheaded by the Subcommittee on Environmental and Natural Resources), rising water levels associated with climate change have the potential to cause catastrophic damage to an area with assets valued at approximately $1 trillion. The assessment indicates that powerful storms could cause surges up to twenty feet high, causing cataclysmic damage to a transportation system with an average variation of six to twenty feet (included with other damage predictions in the full MEC report, available for download on the Metropolitan East Coast Assessment official website).

Compounding this issue is an expected three foot rise in the overall Ramapo River water level. This three foot increase in water level not only decimates the Ramapo River region’s transportation system in a worst-case-scenario storm situation but also increases the possible frequency of such a worst-case-scenario and exponentially increases the difficulty of the subsequent revitalization efforts. Not only would this put the affected area in a state of emergency due to inability of water utility usage, it would cause potentially devastating trauma to the financial resources of the area, with an especially harsh storm season having the potential to completely cripple the Ramapo River vicinity.

Unfortunately, these projections are more of a guide to what should be expected than a warning against a bleak but avoidable circumstance. Preventing the future rise of the Ramapo River water level is no more feasible than preventing the next major storm to impact the river region. Nonetheless, there are levels of preparedness to be met than may mitigate even the most dire state of affairs resultant from an environmental disaster, which are also referred to in the infrastructure assessment; efforts which reportedly cost upward of $100 billion per decade. But these prevention and readiness measures are inescapable, the report argues considering the dreadful environmental consequences that lie ahead thanks to the lethal human impact on nature.

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