Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Special Feature: Jon Kusler, Esq. Ph.D.: Wetlands and Natural Hazards: Devastation from Hurricane Irene

As we all know, riverine and estuarine wetlands are often severe natural flood and erosion hazard areas. The photos below are from Berne, New York, where ASWM maintains its New York office.

Our ASWM office in Berne, N.Y. faces Fox Creek, a small tributary of the Schoharie River and the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. The creek is about 100 feet from the office. Ordinarily, Fox Creek is a dozen feet wide and a few inches deep. It has a quite extensive floodplain with patches of wetland.

During the week of August 25th, more than 10½ inches of rain from the remnants of Hurricane Irene fell on the Fox Creek watershed. Fox Creek became a torrent or high velocity water, up to twenty feet deep and more than 300 feet wide in some places. A small feeder creek, ordinarily three feet wide and a few inches deep a few blocks from our office, also jumped its banks and flowed a dozen feet deep and about 100 feet wide.

Small downstream towns like Gallupville, Schoharie, and Middleburg along Fox Creek and the Schoharie River have been devastated with many structures flooded to depths of six or more feet swept away or severely damaged like the old mill in the center of Berne. Some roads and bridges are still closed.

There is talk that FEMA may fund “buy-outs” for some of the most severely damaged structures. But, seeing is believing.

We at the Berne office were lucky. Flood waters came within 10 feet (horizontal distance) of the ASWM office and we had 6 or 7 inches of water in the basement. But we were undamaged. Armed with three sump pumps we were able to prevent the flood waters from rising any higher in the basement. Then the power went off and stayed off for three days. Sharon Weaver, one of our staff, was without power for a week. We and our neighbors used generators to keep the sump pumps, freezers and refrigerators going. Fortunately the worst of the rain also occurred before we lost power.

We were told that this was both the rainfall and flood of record. But, understandably, folks are nervous. We had a second significant rainfall of 5 inches only a week later with rain falling again on saturated soils. Many evacuations again took place and many of the same areas were flooded again. We at the office came close to being flooded again. Our office is in a house built in 1837. It is outside of the FEMA mapped 100-year floodplain. But these maps do not reflect watershed changes or climate change.

As I write, I am looking across the road at Fox Creek, which is again a babbling brook. But I can see deep erosion channels and many flooded possessions drying in the sun from the old hotel across the street.

We are surrounded by evidence that wetlands and floodplains are best left to nature. Many of the most severely flooded areas should be cleared and returned to natural areas or parks. But we also recognize that it is easy to take a “holier than thou” attitude when one is saved by sump pumps.

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