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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Levees and Floods: Letter from April 2003

To all:

I had to unpack, boot-up and search two mothballed ( and extremely slow ) computers to find the email below, but I was damn determined to do so.

The online link to the letter as published in the Citizen's Voice in 2003 is an old zwire web address, and I cannot get it to work.

Anyway, here's what I had to say in a Letter to the Editor about levees and future flooding over eight years ago. I've cleaned up most of the text breaks to make the letter an easier read.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Don Williams" <djw@netcarrier.com>
To: <editorial@citizensvoice.com>
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 8:45 PM
Subject: Re: Levee Completion

> To: Jim Gittens - Here's a text copy as requested. I'd appreciate having  the letter printed as written. If you want to adjust the punctuation a little, be my guest.
> Thank you for your response.
> Don.

Dear Editor:

Floods happen. They are an integral and permanent part of a river's natural cycle. Even with dams, levees and all the engineering innovations of the past, the present & the morrow...rivers will continue to inundate their floodplains until the end of time. Man may delay the outcome, but nature always prevails.

People construct homes and buildings of commerce on floodplains. After each flood, these same people cry for more protection. "Raise the levees - dredge the river"...not realizing neither action will prevent future floods.

Prior to the 1700's, Pennsylvania - "Penn's Woods" - was covered by forests from the Delaware River to Lake Erie. It was once written that a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic shores to the Mississippi River without ever having to touch the ground. And amidst the forests were the swamps, a.k.a. wetlands. More than half the wetlands are gone, and even today the forests are sold to the highest bidder behind closed doors.

Think about the travels of a raindrop back then. It would first contact the upper reaches of the arboreal canopy maybe 150 feet above the forest floor. Layer upon layer of pine, oak, hemlock and maple would slow its descent. When it eventually reached the ground, which was cooled by almost constant shade, it would slowly seep into the dense humus-rich soils and percolate into and become part of the water table. Any dust or impurities were removed either by chemical or physical processes. The forests & wetlands acted as buffers, reservoirs and filters. How was water quality back then?

You can't even imagine.

Picture that same raindrop hitting a parking lot, driveway or city landscape of today. Surface runoff - storm drain - sewer system - stream. It gets to the nearest waterway a lot faster, dirtier and warmer than its counterpart of yesteryear. Envision that same area covered by thousands of umbrellas  at various levels, with the ground itself covered with sponges wrapped in fine, porous filters. A very simple example, yes. But that's what is missing today. The forests and wetlands were nature's flood protection and water purification system for hundreds of thousands of years. Today, we pay for
a far inferior substitute that once was perfectly free.

The Army Corps of Engineers knows it...they just won't tell you. As more land is developed, as more forests are felled, wetlands filled and streams  channelized...floods along the Susquehanna are going to increase in  magnitude. If an event equal to Hurricane Agnes in 1972 occurred  today...the newly raised levees in the Wyoming Valley would not provide the level of protection anticipated. In the last 30 years, people have been very busy upstream - and they have not been planting trees and saving wetlands.


> Don Williams
> H*******, PA
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "James Gittens" <jgittens@citizensvoice.com>
> To: "Don Williams" <djw@netcarrier.com>
> Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 9:29 AM
> Subject: Re: Levee Completion
>> Don:
>> Thanks for your e-mail to The Citizens' Voice.
>> We would like to print it as a letter.
>> Two things:
>> I'm not able to cut and paste the document. Can you send it as the
> body of the e-mail?
>> I need your town and (not for publication) phone number. Can you e-mail them?
>> Thanks.
>> Jim Gittens


I think that just about covers it. G'nite.

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