Saturday, September 24, 2011

Long term consequences of improper streambed reconstruction in the Adirondacks post-Irene

Stream reconstruction on Styles Brook. Jay, NY. All photos courtesy Adirondack Council.
The Adirondacks are unique in concept and design, and because of the very nature of the patch work of public and private lands, the suspending of the permit process following Irene was both necessary and dangerous.

While people refer to the Adirondacks as a park, they really are nothing more than patches state forest preserve co-mingling with perhaps the nations most regulated zoning laws on private land.

Gulf Brook. Keene, NY. 
This, however, is a problem because, perhaps, no where else does there need to be such a fine balance between the needs of the people that live and work within the blue line and remaining true to article 14 of the New York State constitution. The the APA and article 14 are perhaps an impediment to life in this region, but they have prevented the Adirondacks from becoming another Catskills of the state. The idea that regulations have hindered growth is foolish, rather, they have made the Adirondacks relevant to both tourist and exploiters alike. They have also made the Adirondacks relevant in the hearts and minds of people from all over.

When Governor Cuomo announced a suspension of APA permits for rebuilding, I winced. Not out of selfishness, no doubt did cleanup and rebuilding need to be swift and without "unnecessary" red tape, but like with anything in life, it needed to be done correctly.

Following that bold announcement, the DEC did enact detailed guidelines, but many towns and DOT divisions either didn't receive them or chose to ignore them. It's human nature to be given a long leash and stretch it as far as you can.

At issue is the fact that permitting processes have not been entirely suspended. Water quality standards are still in effect. Dredging and channelization should only be occurring where there is "imminent threat to life, health, property, the general welfare and natural resources." The straigtening of channels and other man made changes to various brooks and rivers is actually potentially a threat to human lives and property, under far less intense conditions than Irene brought.

During Irene, nature showed us how in control it still is despite our technology and repeated attempts to control it. The DEC, despite budget and staffing cuts, still employs many intelligent and passionate people capable of making correct decisions necessary for long term success. Many of those people live, work or recreate in the towns affected by Irene flooding, and they certainly do not want to hamper the process of reconstruction and flood prevention. So it amazes me that the town supervisors and residents are so gung-ho about ignoring APA-DEC warnings and doing their own thing with the idea it can be fixed later.

Roaring Brook, now a ditch with water.
Fixing it later means fixing it FOLLOWING the rest of this years tropical storm season and next springs melt off. Fixing it correctly the first time means less chance of future flooding from insignificant rain falls. Remember this storm was a 500 year flood, not a regular occurrence, even in a region that is one of the wettest in the US.

Unfortunately, the towns and DOT divisions are intent on assuaging the fears of the residents -whom are also their constituents. However, to even have a shot at protecting those areas from Irene like flooding ever again, it is estimated some water ways would have to be 20ft deep and 200ft wide and constantly redredged. This simply isn’t practical, and the state would be better off relocating those residents and businesses within the 100 year flood zone to a different location. Furthermore, even heavily controlled waterways still are subject to flooding. Quite simply, water doesn't play nice with human interference, and trying to make it do so is only going to lead to bigger problems.

Entirely forgetting about the potential environmental impacts of improper stream bed restoration, which include reducing or eliminating trout habitat  and preventing tree regrowth on the banks of these brooks and rivers. Historically we've seen what bad flood control projects lead to, just look at Katrina. The Army Corps of Engineers is often at fault for massive flooding due to poor engineering and planning. It’s entirely possible that these poorly engineered flood control systems and stream reroutes that the DOT is doing, could actually cause flooding issues on much smaller floods than letting the streams naturally flow, or at most reverting them to pre-Irene state.

I sincerely hope these towns in the Adirondacks aren't attempting a quick fix, only to deal with bigger problems in a few years!

The Adirondack Councils statement of concern can be found here.

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