Op-Ed: Flooding Basics for Senators, etc.
|PATERSON, NJ - AUGUST 30: People watch the flood waters from the Passaic River on August 30, 2011 in Paterson, New Jersey. The swollen and cresting rivers, including the Passaic, Pompton and Ramapo, flooded roads and damaged houses along stretches of northern New Jersey. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)|
Letter to the Editor from Charlie Bush:
As one reads the numerous articles and letters on flooding it is easy to fall into the mindset that solutions for Flood Water Management in the Passaic River basin are beyond our engineering expertise as Americans. We can put a Man on the Moon decades ago, and now are able to drive a remote control vehicle on far off planets…yet we can not solve our Storm Water Management issue here in New Jersey. The mantra that has been used numerous times of “there is no silver bullet solution” sends a message from our political leaders to the general public of all ages is a message of hopelessness and lack of leadership. The worst part of this type of communication from our elected officials and leaders is they speak from a position of credibility even though they have NO KNOWLEDGE in the area of engineering or Storm Water Management. Communicating to the public on a topic you have no technical expertise is misleading and an insult to everyone who lives in your district and the Passaic River Basin.
A simple sanity test: would we ask for Governor Christie’s opinion on how to repair a car? Then why would we listen to his decision to release water from reservoirs, open flood gates or any Flood Water Management decision where engineering and hydrology knowledge is required is beyond me. The DEP and United States Army Corps of Engineers should be able to make these types of decisions and move forward with incremental, as well as longer term actions with an established budget to develop a Storm Water Management program. The same group of people should be able to say NO to opening gates or similar actions, when they know the resulting impact on actual Flood Water Management will be negative. A simple example is how hours before Hurricane Irene, the Governor ordered the Oakland flood gates to be opened. The DEP and USACOE knows through the analysis for flow rates and models that it will take at least 3 days for the water to reach Newark Bay. Since we have numerous flow issues in the Passaic River Basin, the Central Basin area ended up with the upstream water, as well as the local storm water run off. Thanks to the authority of the Governors Office, ordering the experts to open the gates, we lost all of the potential storage capacity available downstream. This is not an opinion, but actually supported by data from the USGS and USACOE studies going back decades.
The cause of flooding as my engineering partner and Fairfield resident Ed Lopez and I have explained on numerous occasions is simple: the input of water exceeds the output of water. If the rate at which upstream water flows into a downstream area, is twice as fast as the flow rate to leave the downstream area, the downstream area will hold water. When the water is in open areas, this is not a problem. When the water is in homes and businesses, as well as highways, there is a problem. It is called flooding and has cost taxpayer billions of dollars over time. The Central Basin area has been called the “holding area” for decades and stated to be Lake Passaic and is designed to hold water by many people as well. The simple answer is that Man and Government have made the extreme conditions that exist today by creating dams and not maintaining the river as a Storm Water Management system. Victims need a Flood Management program….Survivors and Americans need a Storm Water Management system.
Let's talk about the datum plane of sea level for readers and our government officials so they can remember back to grammar school this simple concept. The ocean is at sea level or 0 height for simple terms. This is a constant point we can reference ourselves to when trying to understand how high something is, especially when talking about water height. The Passaic River, is fed by the 7 tributaries, and then flows to Newark Bay, thus to sea level. As you go upstream from Newark Bay, the sea level height rises, thus ensuring a downstream flow in the perfect world due to gravity. In our current situation, there are interruptions along the Passaic River which impact the perfect world and sea level height of the river, thus impacting the natural flow of the river. The interruptions are the result of Man and Government agencies creating dams over the past 100 years which have directly increased the sea level height of water before the dams. This is a simple math problem and the resulting scenario is easy to understand: If a dam is built 8 ft high at a point in the river, it will increase the water level height in the river. So if we use 152 ft above sea level, and add 8 ft, we now have created a man made water level height of 160 ft above sea level. What is also created is a flow restriction to the natural flow rate of the river. Now, the second part of the equation is simple as well. If the areas before the dam are at 150 ft above sea level, and the dam downstream is at 160ft above sea level, then the area before the dam is designed by Man and Government agencies to hold water and flood if there is no release valve (gates as example).
This is not theory but actual factos….S.U.M. dam, and the Beatties dam are the real life case studies that are known to be the cause of a majority of the flooding in the Central Basin Area of the Passaic River. The construction and additional modifications to these Dams by the State and Federal Agencies of our US Government have directly caused flooding in the Passaic River Basin. The fact that a Federal Energy commission required the S.U.M dam to have an additional 3 ft of flash boards added to the top of the concrete dam to purposefully increase height of the river to support a now non-active hydroelectric plant, without regard to the increase in sea level height to the communities upstream is negligence by definition. Then the federal government wants to say they are not going to support flood insurance programs when in fact the lack of engineering applied to the Passaic River Basin is at the crux of the issue adds insult to injury to the residents and businesses that have been impacted in these areas.
Can flooding be eliminated? We can not undo everything that has been done at this point in time, but we can have significant impact. The minor storm impacts can be eliminated, and the medium size storms impacts can be reduced to minor events, while the major/hurricane type impacts can be greatly reduced. It is unreasonable and misleading to say we can make the entire area flood proof and never have some flooding. We can greatly reduce the occurrence of flood events and the impact of flood events.
The question is are we ready to make incremental changes in the basin as part of an integrated plan that will begin undoing the problem Man and Government has created, or do we want to continue to bury our head in the sand. We need to ask ourselves some simple questions. Why are we allowing the Passaic Valley Water Commission to control Beatties Dam and not take this dam back under government control as it has been identified as factor in causing flooding. Why don’t we cut a notch in the Dam and allow water level to lower naturally as an incremental step. Why don’t we remove the 3 ft high extensions on the S.U.M dam to reduce the sea level height of water retention for the communities in the local area. If our Senators, Congressmen, Assemblymen and Governor actually understood the simple concept of sea level height, they would not be so quick to say there is no short term or incremental solutions. They would be challenging our Government agencies to step up and justify why the pain and suffering caused to millions of people, and paying out billions of dollars is acceptable at this point in time. If all the dams where removed, water would flow and the backwards flow conditions in the Two Bridges area would be near eliminated. If the river bottom obstructions were removed, the unnatural water back flow would be eliminated. If flood walls and levees were built in the identified low lying areas in the Lower Basin, flooding would be minimized if not eliminated for the nuisance to medium storm events. If we went to NY State and addressed the inflow of water to New Jersey we would reduce the volume of water we are receiving from the higher elevation areas. It is simple, turn the faucet closed a bit to allow the sink to drain at a similar rate.
The 7 rivers feeding the Passaic River are exceeding the capacity of the river and the flow obstructions prevent the flow of the river from consistently moving at the same rate, thus the Storm Water Management system is not efficient or effective. The Passaic River is NOT A RECREATIONAL RIVER, it is a STORM WATER DRAIN for over 720 square miles of New Jersey. The lack of engineering and planning by Man and our Government Agencies to remember the purpose of the river has allowed it to be manipulated, abused and ignored. We built numerous bridges over the river in a fashion that simulates small dams which are increasing sea level height of river and reducing flow. Is there a Silver Bullet solution….the answer is the gun is loaded with multiple silver bullets that would eliminate and reduce the impact of storm water to the area if all were used.
So, I ask Senators Frelinghuysen, Pennachio, Menendez, Assemblyman Rumana and Governor Christie if you have you learned anything from this math lesson. I invite you to come to my home, sit with Ed and I and talk about the data and solutions we have researched so you can go and fight for the communities that have been impacted. I have sat in several of your offices over the last year and presented information with our local governing body. We have left over 3000 signed petitions from residents of Fairfield, Wayne, and Lincoln Park to name a few without any response to our requests as noted in our petition. Maybe you could find the time to talk with us to become further educated on the real CAUSES of flooding in the area, then kick open some doors with the strength of knowledge behind you to get action with real SOLUTIONS. Remember…water can not flow down to the sea as intended if man has prohibited it from doing so with dams and lack of maintenance. Let's fix the problem together. In case you don’t have one of the many emails to contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chairman, Central Basin Regional Flood Board
Member, Fairfield Citizens for Flood Control Reform