Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Blame Game for Ramapo River Floods

By Brittany Ryan
For years the Ramapo River and surrounding communities have experienced severe flooding. Eroding banks creating steep drops and swallowed homes are evidence of raising water levels and matters have only gotten worse over time. As community members cry out for government action to address the never-ending issue, controversy emerges. In seeking for a solution, arguments over the cause of increasing floods remain a major conflict between state reports, legislators and local residents.

The Pompton Lake Dam was constructed in 1921 to ease the vigorous flow of the River. The project was designed to reduce the severity of an anticipated 40-year-flood. But since its development the area already experienced a 50-year-flood in April 1984. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE)  increased the Dam’s height, as a method to further control high water levels. The project included a two-foot raise, which has proven to be counteractive. During high water conditions the dam is submerged and causes major back flow into the Pompton Lake. In 2007, the ACOE introduced another plan to address the flooding conditions. This project involved installing floodgates at the Pompton Lake Dam and a one mile expansion of dredging upstream in Oakland. Two 18-foot-high by 35-foot-long steel floodgates were installed to regulate water releases by monitoring lake levels and opening the gates accordingly. ACOE proposed that these measures will provide protection to roughly 300 homes in the case of a 40-year-flood.

But the projects are not proving their effectiveness to the surrounding community. The Passaic River Advisory Commission reports that the dam actually raises the water level six inches under normal conditions. Aside from that, the debris caught up behind the dam worsens the problem. In fact, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) claimed that one of the main causes of flooding in the community stems from water back-up behind the Pompton Dam, causing frequent flooding in developed areas. Moreover, over ten deaths have been reported along the river due to the rapid flow of water. As for the floodgates, residents describe water flow at higher velocities with levels rising faster than usual.

However, a report completed by a New York technology firm, AECOM, has revealed that increased rain fall has led peak stream flow to double its average. The DEP has used this information, along with computer models and statistics, to produce a final report settling the issue. The conclusion is that intensified and more frequent rain storms are the leading causes of the flooding as opposed to the dam and the floodgates. Frustration lingers amongst locals who are fed up with reports contradicting what they bear witness to. Families who have spent their lives in the area experiencing excessive flooding attribute changing patterns to the installation of the floodgates.

Others argue development is the cause – perhaps an area residents need to concentrate a bit more on. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming different parties, understanding the geography might uncover the truth. The area is a natural floodplain with Route 23 expansions, park and ride facilities, Route 287, hundreds of homes and more commercial development to complicate natural processes. Imposing major development projects on a floodplain and expecting impeccable flood control seems illogical. Surely local government, including community members, should consider Low Impact Development plans and biological remedies before tampering with a series of band-aid construction projects.

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