Rivers

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A few weeks ago I woke up about six and  went to the National Weather Service River prediction page.  It had rained heavy during the night and the gauge at Trenton showed a straight line up several feet.  The prediction had been a gradual rise to about 16 feet.  Would it continue to rise? So quickly.    I check some upriver gauges but it’s hard to tell. About seven a new prediction showed the rise stopping, going down, and the over the next few days going back up slowly to about 16 feet.  More rain expected and the reservoirs in New York were spilling (which they had been for weeks).

With the sun up I noticed the low land along Morgan was flooded.  The water was from Garlits Pond, which is feed by a ditch running along the canal.  The canal may have overflowed just enough to fill the pond to overflow but not enough to flood the neighborhood.  A walk on the canal in the morning showed that’s exactly what happened.  Canal overflow was in a small 4 feet strip.

Living between the Delaware River and canal makes us very aware of weather conditions, rainfall, and potential flooding.  It can happen with the Spring snow thaw, a hurricane, breaking ice packs that are damming river water, local rain flooding the canal.  Many  in the flood plain believe that the major floods of 2004, 05 and 06 were increased due to overflows from upriver reservoirs — Cannonsville, Pepacton, and Neversink. Frequently all three are at or close to 100% capacity forced to release.  Prior to the early 2000 floods, the reservoirs were frequently at 80% capacity and could hold back some heavy rain, instead of spilling and  releasing water.

The Delaware is part of the Wild and Scenic River system.  330 miles of the main stem through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware flow free.  If I understand correctly, the three dam/reservoirs previously discussed and others are on tributaries. These dams  were created to provide drinking water for New York City.  Not wanting to be without clean water, NY wants to keep to reservoirs filled.  The Delaware River Basin Commission, which oversees the reservoirs, after the 2004-06 floods, claimed that 100% filled dams spilling water did not contribute to flooding.  Since then they have instituted minor flood control measures accepting some responsibility.

In 1965 there was a proposal to build a Delaware River dam at Tocks Island.  The federal government began to condemn land for the project.  Supporters of the dam cited the benefit of hydroelectric power and flood control.  In 1955 there was a major flood on the river.  Protests against the dam grew strong.   Abbie Hoffman, a 1960s anti-war activist,  arrived in the Delaware Valley.  Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas led a thousand people in protest.  The Tocks Island Dam was defeated by 1975.  The Delaware would continue to run free. But not all rivers run free.

E0D33988-F528-4426-AD4E-5A19522603F5I just finished rereading “ Northwest Passage: the Great Columbia River” by William Dietrich.  What a story; what a river.  Unlike the Delaware, the Columbia has been dammed, and dammed again, and again.   There are dozens of dams on the main stem and tributaries.  Why?  Some were to provide irrigation water.  And then hydroelectric power. Maybe flood control.   I recognize the dam names Bonneville and Grand Coulee.   Among the many side effects is the impact of dams on the salmon fisheries and Native Americans. Obviously not positive.  Ladders, seeding may help but the historic salmon runs on the Columbia have ended and will not return.

Ten years ago we had a trip planned to explore the Columbia River with my sister Marylee and Norvel.  It didn’t happen as planned.  Recently I’ve been thinking of my “must visit”  places.  Maybe the Columbia.  Until then I’ll continue to monitor the Delaware. No salmon; some shad.

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