Wednesday, April 18, 2012

North Jersey Treads Water on Flood Solution: Part 3, How to Stop a Flood (or Store it)


By Christopher Lotito



WAYNE, NJ - AUGUST 29:  Rains and the cresting...
WAYNE, NJ - AUGUST 29:  Rains and the cresting of nearby waters caused flooding in an otherwise dry wooded area on August 29, 2011 in Wayne, New Jersey. Rivers in northern Jersey continue to rise and throughout the state forcing evacuations along the low lying areas of the river. Tropical Storm Irene was the first to make direct contact on New Jersey in 108 years, killing at least three people in the state and leaving over 600,000 residences and businesses without power. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Following the release of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's study on the Pompton Floodgates by AECOM, April 12th 2012, we are left with more questions than answers.  What is rapidly becoming clear is that our municipalities must consider an additional focus on local flood mitigation projects.  We cannot rely on planning, funding, or in many cases permission from the State in order to achieve these goals, therefore we must target local projects that are relatively simple with a high degree of success.

One such project is the establishment of additional local flood storage.  Often, many of the areas cited for flood storage can turn out to be unsuitable.  Existing ponds and lakes may have too many DEP restrictions upon them or else simply be too far below the water table to be practical.  This does not mean that they should not be investigated, simply that we should also focus on establishing new sources of water storage.

In Wayne, NJ for example, just upstream of Pequannock Township, is an area known as "Topsoil Depot."  This defunct business sits on a chunk of land adjacent to the river and about 300ft by 500ft in size.  Such a site, cleared of years of accumulated debris, soil, and garbage, could provide a significant enough amount of flood storage to provide some relief from stormwaters in the area.  (It's worth noting that Topsoil Depot is currently being investigated by the DEP for kaofin contamination, not to mention the 60+ years of accumulated construction debris that has been so unethically dumped within sight of the river).

Business parking lot that drains to a rain gar...
Business parking lot that drains to a rain garden. A sunken curb retains asphalt, yet lets water flow off the edges. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Stormwater management is another aspect that can be controlled locally.  Municipalities could easily pass laws increasing the amount of stormwater a new development is required to hold in order to provide more time for water to drain off and prevent stormwater flooding, a serious issue in parts of Pequannock.  Currently, developments must contain more than 100% of the stormwater that permeates their property, but this could be increased still more to off-set older sites not in compliance.

Similarly, some urban areas have been known to provide businesses and individuals with tax deductions for using permeable pavers in place of asphalt driveways and parking lots.  The monetary savings here is real, as the municipality does not have to address the disposal of additional stormwaters coming off of those properties.  Such pavers are both functional and attractive and can even reduce the amount of heat radiated by parking areas.

Trounce Pond, a stormwater retention pond land...
Trounce Pond, a stormwater retention pond landscaped with natural grassland plants. Located in the Lakewood Suburban Centre in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Perhaps one of the most attractive options is the Aquatic Park site in Pequannock Township.  Prior to the development of the Morris Canal, the park was marshland.  Today, it is exceedingly damp forest hemmed in by the river on the Southern side and an 8 to 12 foot guard-bank on the Northern.  Flooding portions of this remote park in a controlled and measured fashion using a small gate in the guard-bank could again provide a small measure of relief for residents downstream in Pequannock, Wayne, and Lincoln Park.


  • For a glimpse into the potential flood storage of the site, consider this:
    A 15 foot deep circular depression will hold over 260 cubic yards of liquid.  That's 3 to 4 times the volume of a typical shipping container!  Pequannock's Aquatic Park approaches 640,000 square feet at a variety of elevations and already floods in an uncontrolled fashion during larger storms. (Seen above, a traditional stormwater retention pond.)


Guard Bank along the
North East edge of the
Pequannock Aquatic Park.
Any municipal flood mitigation project which incorporates these techniques will no doubt combine a number of them to gain any measurable result, but the benefits could be excellent and best of all, within the control of home rule rather than at the mercy of powers up river.  Larger, co-operative regional projects could provide even greater control to the municipalities participating and return control of their own destinies to our flooded regions.

Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock Historic District, Open Space, 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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