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Dam May be Unable to Prevent Flooding During Rehab Project

Westwood Mayor John Birkner said he wants to know what kind of assistance the state will provide for residents whose homes are damaged during renovations to the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir's dam.

A plan to rehabilitate the dam at the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir may create a scenario which makes flooding more likely along the Pascack Brook, according to Westwood Mayor John Birkner.

The plan involves working on the dam to strengthen it to withstand a 1,000-year storm, or a storm so severe it is likely to only occur once every 1,000 years. Church Road in Hillsdale will also be lowered. The Department of Environmental Protection is requiring United Water to undergo the rehabilitation project to ensure the dam holds.

As the dam is now, its gate can be raised in the event of heavy rain to prevent all the storm water from flowing into the brook at once. During construction, the gate will have to be kept at 89 feet, which is lower than usual, and it will not be able to be raised. This will increase the likelihood of flooding even in a moderate storm, Birkner said. The construction is expected to last two years.

"The more pressing issue is what happens to water levels in flood-prone areas during — not necessarily a natural disaster-type storm — the type of storm that we have seen flooding with even when the dam was at 91 feet," Birkner said.

Birkner said he wants to know if the state will help with the costs of damages from flooding while the gate is being rehabilitated, but he has not received an answer yet. The DEP is planning to hold a meeting about the project but has not settled on a date yet.

Westwood officials have also been attempting to get operations changed at the dam once the work is complete. A report by Boswell Engineering , so there is more room to raise it during a storm. Currently, the gates are only kept at 91 feet during the winter.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor James Leggate at JMLeggate@gmail.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Westwoodian since '91 May 30, 2012 at 12:48 PM
What exactly is a 1000 year storm? I live in a 100 year flood plain and have flooded 4 times in 5 years. (We're talking feet of water, not inches!). I'm not great at math, but someone needs to look into the "1000 year storm!" Also, if those who get flooded during the "hurricanes" and heavy storms when the gates are at 90'+, the whole Westwood/Hillsdale should be worried is the gates are even lower. Water may show up in places that never had it before. :-(
James Leggate May 30, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Jaimie- I don't know exactly how big a 1,000 year storm would be, but according to the Boswell engineering report from last year, we're getting more rain than we used to. There were only four storms from 1935 to 1999 that reached the local flood stage of 1,500 cubic feet per second, another four from 2000 to 2010 and then another four in 2011.
Paul Piringer May 30, 2012 at 04:03 PM
There are many open questions related to the Dam rehabilitation. They should be answered during the Hillsdale Planing Board permit process.
K.Marin May 31, 2012 at 11:53 AM
Precipitation patterns have come in similar cycles many times in the past. A flexible operating procedure is a must to respond to storms (reactive solution). However, we must demand A PROACTIVE SOLUTION that is feasible. We won't be able to just dismantle, remove or relocate all the towns the tiny Pascack Brook crosses. But wait, if a dam is inpounding water in the brook...wait a second, why are they using it as a conduit? An elementary school child if presented with a problem of passing water from a giant bathtub to another (a term I have seen used by officials on this already) with a half filled straw, will quickly point that the solution is to use a larger pipe instead of a fragile straw. So, fighting with sticks at the local level only is naive. Either the authorities making these operations possible are responsible for creating and forcing dam operators to fund and build a conduit for the DAM, or they are as liable for the damages as the operators. This authorities sit at the State and Federal levels, not in our small town halls. We must help our towns in the fight, but direct all forces above it. That's where we should spend our resources. Anything else, is energy waste that the dam operators just love.
rozette May 31, 2012 at 11:56 AM
It's all a bunch of doublespeak. United Water has the monopoly on water. The towns have to realize this and come to an understanding. This mean arbitration amongst all concerned parties. Maybe then we wouldn't get these weird situations.
K.Marin May 31, 2012 at 12:33 PM
The coalition of municipalities along the Pascack Brook should OWN the reservoirs. In any event, they represent peanuts compared to of the size of their entire operation. We would not be the first towns owning and administering their water supply operations. This battles have be won in the past at state levels.!
William Lang June 03, 2012 at 04:15 PM
It is all well and good to discuss and worry about potential flooding, but we have heard for years that the 'Dam' at Church road is not there to prevent flooding....so any work there to prevent a future 'Disaster' is welcome...but UW Dam is not there to prevent flooding, it is there to hold water for our domestic use....we need a real plan to deal with flooding and it is not about the Dam, it is about how much water can these streams and brooks hold at any time....at what volume and at what velocity can the Pascack Brook maintain water within its banks...

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