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2008 Flood Summit

The Commissioner's Flood Summit held in Kingston, New York on October 16th, 2008

House damaged by flooding
House damaged by flooding

Commissioner Grannis' View on Flood Control and What We Can Do To Help Stop The Destruction

From the Hudson Valley to the Southern Tier to the Mohawk Valley, "100 year storms" seem to be occurring every other year. The resulting floods are taking a devastating human and economic toll. Over the past three years, the Mid-Hudson has seen more than its share of devastation across the Espous Creek, Wallkill River and Rondout Creek. Since 2004, there have been damaging and sometimes deadly floods in places like Deer Park, Livingston Manor, Roscoe, Colchester and along the Mohawk and Susquehanna River systems. The summer of 2008 has seen intense storms causing flash flood conditions in the City of Rensselaer as well as in western Schenectady and Herkimer Counties. Throughout New York State, storms keep getting stronger - and the resulting floods continue to devastate communities. According to the latest climate change models, the future will feature more frequent, more violent and more damaging storms.

What Can DEC Do?

First and foremost, when a flood occurs, DEC will continue to stand and work with communities across the state whenever and wherever we are needed. We will continue to be in the field to assist in flood response, including our work as part of the "first response" team. We will continue to respond quickly to permit applications, including emergency authorizations for clearing obstructions in streams near or under infrastructure, such as bridges.

Responding after Mother nature strikes is just one part of the battle. Taking proactive steps to lessen the harm she does is the other.

Causes

Officials who have decided to permit and encourage development that sits in harms way, such as floodplains, should reconsider their actions. Given what we know today, we should not and we can not continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. Harm from flooding, to a very significant extent, has been worsened by poor land use practices. If historic floodplains had been protected in their natural state, they would have alleviated a significant portion of the flooding recently experienced in Ulster County and across the State. The peak flood is exaggerated by the filling of wetlands and natural floodplains, the channeling and straightening of streams and the continued spread of impervious surfaces. Filling and encouraging (or tolerating) development in floodplains has actually made flooding worse. The water has nowhere to go, except into other places downstream, often with much greater force.

Solutions

Part of the solution is ensuring that New York's dams are as safe as possible. Another key part is putting in place effective local planning strategies that will help minimize the impacts of flooding on New York residents.

The natural resources that act to lessen flooding need to be restored, protected, and enhanced. Streams need be re-vegetated for stability and reconnected to their floodplains wherever possible. Wetlands act as natural sponges. Natural floodplains allow the water to spread out and limit flash flooding. Old impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, roadways, strip malls and subdivisions, need to be retrofitted with stormwater detention ponds or holding tanks to ease peak flows and reduce the detrimental impacts or polluted runoff. The "better site design" and "green infrastructure" movements have developed a host of methods to hold water on-site and release it slowly, or better yet, infiltrate it back into the soil where it can recharge aquifers or be delivered to streams as cleansed and cooled groundwater.

Multiple State Agencies including DEC could help local communities if we work together on a watershed restoration approach, while assuring that new development is smart development, development that does not worsen an already bad situation.

Risk and Liability Presentations

  • Larry Larson, Flood Risk: A National Perspective, Looking towards 2050, Slides 1-21 (PDF, 539 KB)
  • Ed Thomas, No Adverse Impact Approach to Decreasing Risk and Liability, Slides 1-35 (PDF, 1.2 MB) and Slides 36-80 (PDF, 993 KB)

Streams, Stormwater and Watersheds Presentations

What Can We Do? Presentations

  • Jon Kusler, An Integrated Approach to Flood Loss Reduction, Slides 1-28 (PDF, 788 KB) and Slides 29-51 (PDF, 911 KB)
  • Mike Stankiewicz, Traditional Flood Protection Approaches, Slides 1-13 (PDF, 1.1 MB) and Slides 14-32 (PDF, 1 MB)
  • Bill Nechamen, Floodplain Management, Slides 1-25 (PDF, 769 KB)
  • Rick Lord, Mitigation Planning and Projects Slides 1-34(PDF, 557 KB)