|a2_LOTITO_Pequannock_Flood_(Irene)_2011 090 (Photo credit: Christopher Lotito)|
One year ago this month, still reeling in the wake of Hurricane Irene and the massive flooding that disaster caused throughout the region, Pequannock Mayor Rich Phelan requested and received support from the New Jersey League of Municipalities for a legislative bill to use regional reservoirs in a way that helps to reduce downstream flooding.
Over time, numerous bills have been considered that would help flood affected North Jersey communities by better managing the reservoir resources, but time and time again those bills have "died in committee" -- specifically the "Environment and Solid Waste Committee"
Pequannock's Township Council continued a public push for reservoir management legislation with a petition drive, receiving several thousand signatures from Pequannock, Lincoln Park, and several other municipalities. Notably, a number of signatures were obtained at the entrance to the Lincoln Park Shoprite, one of the few remaining supermarkets in the Pequannock food desert which became a reality when Hurricane Irene forced the permanent closure of the Pompton Plains A&P. (As of this writing, a new supermarket has applied for signage at the A&P shopping center, but no opening date has been set.)
At this time, it appears we are little closer to a legislative reservoir management solution than prior to Hurricane Irene. Naturally this does not sit well with many Pequannock, Wayne, and Lincoln Park residents who live within the path of the all too frequently rising waters. One bill however does offer some hope as it has proceeded further along the legislative process than perhaps ever before. A3928, sponsored by Annette Quijano, Connie Wagner, and Tim Eustace was introduced in March of 2013 and has actually made it back out of the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee for a 2nd reading, with amendments.
If passed, the bill "Permits Office of Emergency Management to order reduction in reservoir levels prior to weather emergency; requires DEP to adopt regulations concerning reservoir levels." However, the amendments are somewhat concerning as they seem designed to strip the very authority the bill is intended to grant away from the State DEP and OEM:
- require that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) set the maximum level for each reservoir that ensures that reservoir safe yields are protected;
- clarify that the State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is required to work in consultation with the DEP when requiring that the water level of any reservoir be lowered; and
- require OEM and DEP to consult with the owner of any reservoir when making a determination that lowering the water level of a reservoir is an appropriate course of action.
In other words, much of the decision to lower the reservoir would be referred back, once again, to the reservoir's immediate stakeholders: companies which sell water from those same reservoirs for profit. What progress, if any, will be made even if this bill is passed is unclear at this time.