Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Water, water everywhere!

What happens when we develop in a floodplain? Well, we are seeing it right now. We expect flooding from the Blackstone River, and also from the Pawtuxet River, but it seems that we are seeing more and more of it. This land use photo comparison, given to me by the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, shows the development of the Pawtuxet River floodplain in the vicinity of the Warwick and Rhode Island Malls.

If you think about this area of our state, you may think about asphalt and lots of it. The Pawtuxet River is now what we would call a "flashy" river, because it rises and falls quickly with every rain event due to being surrounded by pavement. In the 1960's, the Army Corps of Engineers helped the City of Cranston purchase land along the river, buying up entire neighborhoods and removing the houses. This is land that today helps store flood water. The Natural Resource Conservation Service is currently working on more floodplain easement projects on the river that will reconnect the floodplain and provide additional flood storage. In addition, the removal of the Pawtuxet Falls dam will lower water levels in the area north of Pawtuxet Village, providing protection to some industrial properties.

The historic trend in New England has been towards large, extreme events and we need to do all we can to reclaim our floodplains. As I read the news reports and hear about the types of businesses being flooded - car salvage yards, nurseries with their fertilizers, industries, I think about the amount of hazardous material flowing into the Bay as well as the amount of economic loss that is occurring. We will recover from this storm, but we should do everything we can to be ready for the next one.

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