Flooding

Climate Change and the "cycle of disaster" in floodplains

When it comes to rebuilding after storms, some hard decisions need to be made:

Local officials desperate to restore normalcy to disoriented communities will get to decide how to spend those federal dollars — choices made more consequential, and costly, as sea levels rise and Atlantic storms generate greater surge and rainfall because of climate change.

“Human settlements have been designed in a way that reflects a climate of the past, and this increases the likelihood that disaster-related losses will continue to rise,” said Gavin Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who directs the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence, a research consortium funded by the Department of Homeland Security. “This also means we need to rethink how and where we build before the storm, as well as how and where we reconstruct public buildings and infrastructure in the aftermath of extreme events.”

First let me state upfront I do not live in an area prone to flooding, even during the worst of deluges. There are a few streams here and there in my community that are prone to overflow, but 15-20 minutes later everything's fine. And I know it's real easy for somebody like me to criticize those who do live in such areas, who resist being relocated. But emotional attachments have absolutely no influence on the science of hydrology, and if that science tells you you're living in the wrong place, you should probably listen closely:

Getting students back to school in Eastern NC a huge challenge

Even when schools reopen, you still have to get them there:

Bounds said school officials are eager to get students back to give them a dry, safe haven and a hot meal. While a couple of Scotland County's schools were without power or water this week, Bounds said the real limiting factor to restarting school is getting to students. Many roads in the area remain flooded or badly damaged.

Bounds said transportation will be the school's biggest challenge, forcing the school district to devise new bus schedules and bus routes. She said she expects that schools from her county all the way east to the coast are facing that same dilemma of how to reach students.

Even roads that appear to be just fine might be ticking time-bombs. From time to time we've seen part of a road collapse due to sinkholes and washouts, it happens several times a year across the state even without a monster storm like Florence. But roads have been collapsing (or on the verge of) in every county affected by the storm, even up in the Piedmont. But maybe even more dangerous for children than collapsing roads is the likelihood of persistent mold growth after their school has been reopened:

Challenges to mitigating flood damage in Lumber River area

When the levee breaks, we'll have no place to stay:

Robeson County’s “Resilient Redevelopment Plan,” conceived after Matthew, called for upgrades to the Lumber River levee and the construction of a floodgate where the levee opens for a railroad crossing. That would prevent what happened during the 2016 storm, when the river poured through the opening into largely low-income neighborhoods of south and west Lumberton. Hundreds of houses were damaged or destroyed.

But the construction of the floodgate requires coordinating with CSX, the freight company that owns the railroad track — or Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to force the issue by declaring eminent domain. Neither scenario has happened yet.

As you can see from the artist's rendering, this proposed floodgate would not only (temporarily) block off a road, but also a rail line. Which might seem a little crazy, until you consider that huge opening in the levee pretty much makes the levee itself almost useless. During Florence, National Guard troops tried to block it with sand bags, but that effort proved fruitless:

Superfund sites are ticking time-bombs in flood-prone NC

Containing a cornucopia of deadly toxins:

Among the Superfund sites most at risk from Florence is Horton Iron and Metal, a former shipbreaking operation and fertilizer manufacturing site in a low-lying floodplain along the Cape Fear River outside Wilmington, North Carolina. The 7.4-acre site is heavily contaminated with pesticides, asbestos, toxic metals and cancer-causing PCBs.

Upriver along the Cape Fear is Carolina Transformer Co., a 5-acre Superfund site in Fayetteville that also contains contaminated soil and groundwater contaminated with PCBs. Forecasts call for the river to crest Monday at Fayetteville at more than 62 feet — nearly 30 feet above flood stage.

Some of you younger readers may not be familiar with Poly-chlorinated Byphenyls (PCBs), because they were outlawed before you were born. And in a perfect world, you wouldn't be reading about them now, at least not in the context of current events. But we have a really bad habit of letting polluting industries file bankruptcy and/or change their corporate structure, so they can walk away from toxic nightmares they've created. Superfund sites are scattered all across the country, and efforts to clean them up properly are usually mired in legal maneuvering that can last decades. Anyway, back to the PCBs:

NC's hair-raising dam safety issues not being addressed

When the levee breaks, I'll have no place to stay:

To help local and state official save lives in the event of a breach, the N.C. General Assembly included a provision in the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 requiring some dam owners to file emergency actions plans (EAPs) with the state. The plans use modeling software to help decision makers understand where water will flow should the dam breach and when to warn or evacuate homeowners who, like Fraser, often don't know a dam is nearby.

Now, more than a year after those plans were required to be in place, 1,309 of the 2,011 dams that are supposed to have them don't. Only dams defined as high-hazard or intermediate-hazard potential -- designations based on the threat and property should the dam fail -- are required to have completed documents. In counties east of or contiguous to Interstate 95, 160 of the 217 dams supposed to have an EAP do not. The 73.7 percent lacking plans in eastern North Carolina is slightly outpacing the state's 60.6 percent.

Bolding mine. As is often the case when stories like this break, there's a handy expert standing by to tell us there's really nothing to worry about. And yet, not a rainy season goes by where several dams nationwide don't lose structural integrity and fail, and North Carolina has had its share. These emergency action plans do more than tell us what we should do in case of a failure, they help us figure out what other infrastructure needs we have by modeling the flow of flood waters in the event of a dam failure. And the fact we're still below 40% compliance is outrageous. A monumental failure to serve the people, that *will* result in the loss of life and property if not rectified.

Voices rising to extend voter registration deadline in light of Matthew damage

From the flooded trenches in Fayetteville:

Hunt says he's disappointed in the board for "choosing not to provide adequate relief to eligible voters" unable to register when Hurricane Matthew shut down local boards of elections and other registration sites. Registration deadline is today, but the board has told local officials to accept mailed-in registrations that arrive late. The board also notes that same-day registration is available at all early-voting sites, which will be open from Oct. 20 through Nov. 5.

At this point, it's not clear that all early-voting sites will be able to open by next Thursday. It's fortuitous that the courts struck down state voting reform legislation and that same-day registration is still an option. But it may not be enough in some of this state's hardest-hit communities.

No doubt the State Board is concerned local boards will have difficulty processing voter registrations while also preparing for early voting to begin. But that difficulty pales in comparison to the difficulties faced by those whose homes are (still) under water in much of Eastern North Carolina.

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