A 21st century flood management strategy for New JerseyMarch 16th, 2010
Stephanie Lindloff, 518-482-2631
Amy Kober, 206-898-3864
(Washington, DC) – American Rivers voiced support today for efforts to help communities across New Jersey recover from recent floods and released a three point plan to prevent dangerous and damaging floods in the future.
“While we need to focus on clean up and recovery now, we must also take this opportunity to reassess our flood management strategies to prevent this kind of damage from happening in the future,” said Stephanie Lindloff, river restoration program director for American Rivers.
American Rivers highlighted three natural flood management priorities that are an essential part of a 21st century flood management plan:
1) Remove or repair unsafe dams
There are 299 dams in New Jersey with remediation needs, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. Unsafe or outdated dams can make flooding worse by increasing flood heights upstream or, in the worst case scenario, when the dam fails. American Rivers is a leader in removing outdated dams and has played a lead role in the removal of dams across the region.
2) Restore and protect floodplains
Protecting and restoring natural floodplains gives rivers room to spread out, which reduces flood levels. In some areas, levees can be set back farther from the river, or removed altogether if appropriate flood management steps are implemented. Allowing rivers to overflow onto natural floodplains upstream of populated areas can also help alleviate pressure on levees guarding cities. Wherever possible, homes and businesses in the floodplain should be moved out of harm’s way. Structures that are damaged by floods each year must be a priority for removal or relocation.
3) Protect wetlands
Wetlands are nature’s sponges, absorbing floodwaters and releasing them slowly over time. A single wetland acre, saturated to a depth of one foot, retains 330,000 gallons of water — enough to flood thirteen average-sized homes thigh deep. Even having four to five percent wetland coverage in a watershed can reduce peak floods by 50 percent. Wetlands that are drained, filled, or isolated behind levees provide little or no flood protection for the surrounding community.
Throughout much of American history, rivers have been treated as problems that must be “solved” through large scale and expensive engineering projects. As a result, rivers have been clogged with dams, straightened and channelized, cut off from their floodplains and even buried underground. But these approaches have often exacerbated the very problems they were meant to solve, and have saddled communities with long-term costs they cannot afford. Despite spending more than $25 billion on federal levees and dams, our nation’s flood losses continue to rise.
“American Rivers is committed to helping New Jersey bring flood management into the 21st century,” said Lindloff. “Levees and other structural solutions will continue to be part of the flood management strategy in some communities that must protect existing development within floodplains, but the real answer to long-term safety and well-being lies in working with nature, not against it.”
2008 statistics on dam safety regulation can be found at http://www.damsafety.org/media/Documents/STATE_INFO/STATISTICS/2008StateProgramStats.pdf