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Stream Management: A Possible Solution for Flood-Prone Areas?

Mon November 21, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Mary S. Yamin-Garone


Main Street in Margaretville, N.Y. was overwhelmed with water from Hurricane Irene.
Main Street in Margaretville, N.Y. was overwhelmed with water from Hurricane Irene.

When Hurricane Irene made its way through the Catskills, she left more than destruction and record-breaking floodwaters in her wake. She also brought the issue of stream management versus dredging back to the forefront.

In the past there has been notable controversy in the NYC Watershed Region regarding these processes. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has been criticized for not managing the area’s streams well enough, which resulted in excessive flooding.

What is the difference between the two?

In a video posted on CNN’s iReport Burr Hubbell of Hubbell Companies, which does stream management projects in the Catskill region said “Dredging simply takes material out. Stream management builds structures that will work with the water and allow it to move that material in a natural way that keeps it flowing and eliminates the need to dredge. Now, not only is water coming into the valleys, material is coming down with the water. Water runs very fast off the mountainsides and when flooding occurs a lot of water is carried into the valley floor and material is dropped into the stream beds.

“The problem here is that the area is eroding. So we construct stable structures and place rocks in the water to remove energy to prevent further erosion.”

Stream management plans provide a comprehensive review of stream characteristics, data, maps and recommended management strategies. They also preserve the health of the stream, protect the area’s infrastructure and property and are helpful in emergency situations. When considering implementing such a plan municipalities also must recognize that:

• Proposed actions or policies that attempt to rectify a problem may have unforeseen negative upstream or downstream effects.

• An approach to future stream-related projects that benefit multiple interests, including erosion rates and flood levels, is necessary to guarantee cooperative stream stewardship.

• In situations where negative impacts are suspected and inevitable, mitigation should be given serious consideration.

• Consulting with the Soil and Water Department, Environmental Conservation and the Department of Environmental Protection will make the planning process more efficient and result in a better end product.

Hubbell admits part of the flooding problem in Margaretville and other nearby municipalities is the result of building on floodplains. Floodplains are the valley floors adjacent to stream channels that may be inundated during flood events.

“Unfortunately, they [the floodplains] are the few flat spots left in this area. We should be smart enough to know where those floodwaters are going to flow and build above them. The idea is to find a way to work with the stream and keep the buildings that are there. Now we have to rethink how we are managing the river to see if we can have it do a better job of keeping material and water flowing by municipalities instead of through them.”

(Watersheds, or drainage basins, are areas of land that drain to a single outlet. The New York City Watershed Region covers 1,900 sq. mi. in the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River Valley. It is divided into two reservoir systems: the Catskill/Delaware watershed west of the Hudson River and the Croton watershed to its east. Together, the systems deliver nearly 1.4 billion gallons of water to roughly 9 million people in New York City and Westchester, Orange, Putnam and Ulster counties every day.) CEG