NJ DEP States "No Benefit" from Strategic Lowering of Water Storage Levels

a1_LOTITO_Pequannock_Flood_(Irene)_2011 169Image by Christopher Lotito via FlickrMany will recall that I am Christopher Lotito, the creator and editor / author / curator of "Pequannock News".  You may also recall that I am an active member of 3 township commissions since 2004.  If you know me personally, you may be aware that I am a lifelong resident of Pequannock and that my home on Madison St. was devastated by Hurricane Irene.  So perhaps it comes as no surprise that I took it upon myself last Thursday, faced with yet another flood warning, to contact the NJ DEP personally to request that they provide additional flood storage by lowering water storage levels.

Here are the results of that endeavor:


  • 1:15pm - Browsed NJ DEP website to find contact information for control of the Pompton Lake floodgate and Wanaque Reservoir.
  • 1:20pm - Gave up navigating NJ DEP's outdated website and used Google to search the same.
  • 1:39pm - Contacted Pat Rector, our region's Watershed Manager with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection requesting that their organization arrange the release of waters from Pompton Lake and the Wanaque Reservoir in advance of the flood to provide additional flood storage, recommend the same (if it is not within their power to do so), or explain to me (if I am mistaken) why this would not be an appropriate remedy.
  • 1:40pm - Email to Pat Rector bounced back (failed). -- More research needed.
  • 1:49pm - Dialed (609) 633-2201 to reach the DEP's Office of Policy Implementation and Watershed Restoration. The secretary would not release the name of the current WMA 3 Watershed Manager but directed me to Kyra Hoffman's voicemail. Ms. Hoffman's voicemail stated she would be out of the office until Monday, I declined to leave a message. I redialed the secretary's number immediately, but no one picked up the phone.
  • 2:02pm - Spoke with a very helpful individual at the DEP who indicated that Pat Rector may have retired and has attempted to direct me to another individual in a different office at their organization. Will report back on the results. -- This contact was by the way the result of guessing phone numbers at the NJ DEP.
  • 2:41pm - Several transfers later, I spoke to a secretary in Karen Fell's office (the Asst. Director of Water Supply Management for the NJ DEP). Subsequently, I was directed to the Office of Dam Safety under the Engineering and Construction Dept. There, I left a message with a secretary for Russell Ray. I've also submitted the email originally intended for Pat Rector to Mr. Ray.

  • Email submitted to Mr. Ray:
    Just contacting you to get some information.  I'm on the Flood Committee in Pequannock and have a couple questions about stormwater management in the region.  Your information was on a PDF on the DEP Water Management website.

    I received an email from Pequannock's flood contact list today that explained that we may see flooding locally as a result of rain over the next week.  This email noted that the Wanaque Reservoir and Pompton Lake were at or near capacity.

  • Would it be possible for your organization to arrange, or at the least recommend, the release of waters from these two storage facilities over the next 24 hours before the bulk of the rain hits?  I am not an engineer, so please feel free to educate me, but one suspects releasing waters now might reduce flooding by providing additional storage during the storms, which would in turn reduce the need for those floodgates to be opened when the water table is at its highest.

    Looking forward to your response.


  • 10:11am - Email received in response from Mr. Ray: 

Mr. Lotito,

DEP is not planning to lower Pompton Lake or require Wanaque Reservoir to be lowered because of the predicted rainfall.  Currently, the NWS is not predicting the Ramapo or Pompton Rivers to reach flood stage.  In anticipation of Hurricane Irene, Pompton Lake was lowered three feet.  The lowering was an isolated incident in response to an anticipated record rainfall.

Lowering Pompton Lake and allowing it to refill during high flows provides no significant benefits to downstream residents.  No benefits were realized by the previous strategic lowering.  Unfortunately, the additional storage volume provided by a lowering is very small in comparison to the vast quantity of water that flows down the Ramapo River during flooding conditions.

If you have any additional questions, please do no hesitate to contact me,

Russell Ray

9/23/11 - 9/26/11

  • Conferred with individuals I know with science and engineering backgrounds, local history backgrounds, and took time out to run in Miles for Mike.


  • (Late at night) Email submitted to Mr. Ray (in response):

Mr. Ray,

Thank you for your prompt response!

1) Would the DEP consider a strategic lowering of water levels behind other dams under its control north of Pequannock Township (and the general region directly south of Pompton Lakes) in order to alleviate flooding in the event of other storms, especially given that weather prediction technology now allows a 10 day lead time?

2) Specifically, how much flood storage volume would be needed in order to alleviate the seasonal flooding which usually occurs in March in the Pompton valley?

3) How much flood storage volume are we able to muster at this time by strategic lowering of the dams at our disposal?

At the heart of any flood control effort, it seems a baseline of what is needed and what is currently possible (in terms of flood storage) would be essential.

Any studies which have been performed in relation to this topic would also be greatly appreciated.  We have previously referenced C.C. Vermeule's Morris Canal Decommissioning Report locally and have considered data from the Army Corps of Engineers' floodgate construction project, but it seems likely more studies may have been performed over time.

Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

Best Regards,
Christopher Lotito


  • Eagerly awaiting a response from the NJ DEP regarding my follow-up questions.  It is my hope that Mr. Ray will be able to provide results of an independent study that either confirm that lowering water storage levels does provide flood storage or puts the matter to rest so that we can focus on the most productive solution to our flooding issues.

Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock EnvironmentalHistoric District, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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