Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Water Water Everywhere

When Mr. J and I were house hunting, some years ago, the realtor showed us a great house with a creek in the side yard. The realtor said not to worry, the house was in a 100 year flood plain and had flooded a few years earlier so it was safe for another 90-some years. It was a nice house but we passed. The house we bought is on a hill, just below the crest. If water is coming up our driveway, an ark is afloat somewhere, possibly launched from the rooftop of one of our neighbor’s homes in the valley below.

In a region built along 2 rivers and a number of creeks flooding will always be a concern. When development has run amuck with little real planning and zoning is a hodge podge of municipal vagaries, there is bound to be trouble. And that’s what we have, trouble. Two weeks ago we had a very rainy weekend and flooding was in the paper again.

In hard rains we sometimes have a mixing bowl on the kitchen counter to catch the occasional drip. I work on lower ground and some departments were closed after the recent rains because of the problems people had getting to the office.

The rivers, Delaware and to a lesser degree the Schuylkill, get the most attention. Most of the Philadelphia area Congressional delegation belongs to the Delaware River Basin Task Force, with representatives from other states in the region joining also. This year a group of area congressional representatives contacted New York about overflow from reservoirs in that state (“On behalf of Delaware River families”). The same concerns were expressed last year.

There is a Delaware River Basin Commission which prepared a report a 96 page report. Solutions for those who live or work along the river range from the extreme but sensible, such as buyouts and preventing people from living or working along the river in the future, to the do-able but not so effective. Each body of water is different and each needs an individualized plan. Patrick Murphy, congressman for the 8th congressional district (Bucks County, a sliver of Montgomery County and a bit of Northeast Philadelphia) has formed a Delaware River Flood Task Force, with representatives of 17 municipalities along the river (Portner). He has also called for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study (Adler).

However, the problem is not just the rivers. There are creeks, with numerous branches, that feed into the river. Stormwater runoff is also a big problem, especially in overdeveloped areas. As previously written about on this blog, Temple University completed an extremely detailed floodplain map of the Pennypack Creek, setting a new standard for how this should be done. (See the Inquirer’s link to the floodplain map). Repairing and updating storm water systems is expensive. A recent article in the Inquirer gave the cost for just Whitemarsh Township in Montgomery County as $12 million. One possible funding source is a flood-control fee (Mastrull).

Big ventures like those are wonderful and get a lot of press. There are other, equally necessary measures, needed also. Some areas are building stormwater basins, basically big dirt buckets to hold rainwater and stormwater runoff, much like the bowl on my counter. There are zoning ordinances that can be passed limiting development in flood prone areas (provided you have adequate mapping available). There are rules on approved development or at least suggestions that can be made. For one example, when Wegmans built a store in Warrington they used a water permeable surface in the parking lot (Warrington). Proper care of streams, creeks, and wetlands are another. Townships and governments that encourage those living along bodies of water not to mow to the land’s edge but to leave a riparian buffer of native plants will also help prevent erosion and flooding. Grassroots watershed organizations can assist with these efforts. The largest of these is the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, but there are a lot of smaller ones out there, too, like the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association. .

Flooding is a topic that we often hear about when it rains but it is one that needs attention even when it is dry. Sorry to harp on it so often but it is a problem that affects all of us. As is said, we all live downstream, even if we live on a hill.


Adler, Danny, “Murphy ready to tackle flooding,” Bucks County Courier Times 4/06/07

Delaware River Basin Commission

Delaware Riverkeeper Network

Flood of Trouble,” Philadelphia Inquirer (series of articles) various dates

Is your house in a floodplain?” Philadelphia Inquirer 3/27/07

Mastrull, Diane, “Flood control fees gain support,” Philadelphia Inquirer 4/02/07

“On behalf of Delaware River families….” (Rep. Patrick Murphy press release) 4/18/07

Portner, Jenna, “Task force to study river flooding,” Bucks County Courier Times 3/22/07

Temple completes floodplain mapping,” 9/29/06

Warrington Township Board of Supervisors Minutes 1/13/04

Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association.

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