In April of 1984, Linda and I were living in the city. One night we got a call from Linda’s parents telling us that they the police had just come to take them out of their house in Pompton Lakes in a row boat, as the Wanaque River that flowed behind their neighborhood, had overflowed it’s banks and flooded the area. FYI, the Wanaque is tributary that eventually flows into the Passaic River. That’s today’s NJ geography lesson.
It is now the spring of 2011 and once again, the Wanaque, Passaic and other northern NJ rivers have overflowed their banks, flooding large swaths of the area. This has pretty much become an annual occurrence as the Passaic, and it’s tributaries, have caused some serious flooding the last 2 years and 7 out of the last 11. These types of situations used to happen it what some call a “once a century” or “once every 50 year storm.” Now we just call it spring.
Lets travel back in time to the beginning of the 20th century. In the Passaic River Valley Flood Basin (yes, it is supposed to flood hence the term flood basin) there is no Interstate 80, no Route 46, no Route 23; no malls; no office buildings and not very many houses. What is there is approximately 100 square miles of flood basin, a place that Mother Nature set-up for the rivers to go when they overflow their banks.
Dating as far back as 1870, government agencies have dealt with this issue. Between 1902 and 1936 there was even a Flood District Commission. And you all thought that the government being completely useless is some sort of new phenomenon. I don’t think so!
So what was the big decision on how to handle flooding in the flood basin? They decided to build…and build…and build: Malls, houses, condos, office buildings, highways, etc, etc, etc. And of the 100 square miles of undeveloped flood basin, how much is left? Less than 1 square mile and guess what happens? It still floods, only where they used to be swamps, streams and a big ass flood basin, there is now asphalt, concrete and other man made materials that don’t absorb water all that well, so the rivers just flood all around them and in everyone’s basement. In other words, Mother Nature is doing what she’s been doing in the Passaic River Flood Basin for thousands of years, only the local inhabitants never got the memo.
So what are we do? I know…let’s call the army corp of engineers. After all, they are really good at flood control (I say dripping with sarcasm). Their plan was to build a huge tunnel, 40 feet in diameter, and take all that water and every time it floods, dump it into Newark Bay at a cost of a mere $2,000,000,000 (that’s billions) and that was in 1992. Imagine what that would cost almost 20 years later.
What to do, what to do? I have an idea. Let’s take all that development in the flood basin and blow it up, returning the flood basin back to the state it was in 100 years ago. OK, so that’s not realistic. How about if there’s a residential area that floods on a regular basis, say 7 out of the last 11 years, and every time it floods it costs billions of dollars to repair the damage, let’s say we not repair the damage and just knock the dam (pardon the pun) houses down. I know that’s harsh, but how happy can these folks be living in an area where every March, when the snow melts and the spring rains come, you spend your days staring out the window wondering when the water will creep up your street, into your yard and then into your house. And how happy can everyone else be that we have to foot the bill for the clean-up?
Unfortunately, reality tells me that nothing will change. The snows will melt, the rains will come, the rivers will overflow their banks, everything around those rivers will flood, the news will cover it, the residents will complain, the governor will come for a visit and promise a solution, the flood waters will recede, the neighborhoods will get cleaned up and life will go on. That’s the reality of the situation, it sucks for everyone and it’s been that way for years. Anyone expecting a different outcome, I’ve got a very nice piece of property to sell you right along side the Passaic River and it never floods…really.