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

The Compleat Wetlander: Hurricane Sandy: In Search of Safety and Clean Water

Hurricane Sandy is front and center in the news this week and it should be.  The storm of legendary proportions has left a trail of destruction across more than a dozen states. The coastal communities of New Jersey and New York and nearby states were struck hardest.  There, life will not get back to normal for a very long time.  For some people, particularly those who lost loved ones in the storm, it never will.

Any hurricane precipitates a whole string of emergencies that continue long after the storm passes. First comes the hurricane itself and the rush to safety, the heroic rescues and the scenes of mounting destruction. After the storm passes, there is the frantic effort to get electricity restored, transportation systems running, and drinking water and food distributed to populations left stranded.  Then the real clean-up begins as businesses struggle to reopen, houses and roads are repaired, and life slowly begins to return to normal.

All of this is not easy and it requires many extraordinary and dedicated people to pull it off.

State environmental protection agencies have an important role to play in keeping people safe.  Environmental command centers are set up and linked to the states’ emergency operation center. They are staffed 24 hours a day and are available to respond to a wide variety of emergencies.  Immediately following the hurricane these include woody debris washed up against bridges and culverts.  These press on structures as water backs up and, unless they are removed, may wash bridge and culverts downstream.  Also watercourses change locations. Underground fuel storage tanks are damaged.  Propane tanks wash away.  Sewage treatment plants are flooded.  Water lines break.  And so on.  Most states have emergency procedures for issuing permits so that measures can be taken immediately to address these and other problems. After Hurricane Irene New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has a process in place to issue emergency permits a hour after receiving an application.

People who receive these permits are also responsible for keeping people safe.  The emergency permits are for the immediate emergency and are often not intended as final actions.  Individuals who do not follow the permit requirements regarding reporting back or filing for later permits may put others at risk and incur liability for those actions. They may use methods that will send water onto their neighbors property during the next storm threatening their safety.  They may use materials or practices that put their own homes at risk during the next big storm event.

A friend of mine was talking last week to a woman whose home was damaged during Hurricane Irene.  It was right next to a stream.

“If they would just make the stream deeper and wider there wouldn’t be a problem,” she said, not realizing that the activity she proposed would send larger amounts of water downstream to the next community endangering her neighbors. See video: Flood Risk and the Critical Importance of Healthy Floodplains & Wetlands.

In the months following Hurricane Sandy I hope that we can work towards solutions that keep us safe and keep our neighbors safe as well.

Below are some interesting stories that ran this week about the hurricane, its impacts, and possible future actions.

Hurricane Sandy Spills Sewage, Triggers Toxic Troubles

Christie declares State of Water Emergency, Authorizes DEP to Take Steps to Prevent Water Shortage

Pollution & debris stirred by Sandy threaten coastal waters

Hurricane Sandy and Potentially Hazardous Waters

Distress Signal: Hurricane Sandy’s Take-Away Message

Hurricane Sandy’s lessons learned reminiscent of Isaac, experts say

Superstorm Sandy Suggests NYC Infrastructure Needs Revamping

Hurricane Sandy as Greek Tragedy

Hurricane Sandy poses environmental threat to Chesapeake Bay

Hurricane Sandy’s Impact on Fish and Wildlife

Migration Alert: How Will Hurricane Sandy Affect Migrating Waterfowl?

Fishermen Look to Recovery After Hurricane Sandy

Shellfish areas closing due to Hurricane Sandy pollution

Hurricane Sandy Emergency Information

What to do after a hurricane (ready.gov)

Google crisis response: Map with power outages, shelters, weather and more

State info: CT · DE · MA · MD · ME · NC · NH · NY · PA · RI · VA · VT

NYC info: nyc.gov MTA map Notify NYC alerts Transit

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