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Proposed bill would regulate flood-prone New Jersey reservoirs

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

CLIFFVIEW PILOT BROKE THE STORY: The state DEP would establish mandatory water levels for flood-prone reservoirs, such as those in Oradell and Woodcliff Lake, and the Office of Emergency Management could order those levels lowered during severe weather conditions, under a bi-partisan bill submitted to the Legislature.

NJ Assembly members Connie Wagner, Bob Schroeder

Sponsored by Assembly members Bob Schroeder (R-39) and Connie Wagner (D-38), who both represent flood-prone towns in Bergen County, the proposed law:

• Directs the DEP to identify those reservoirs in New Jersey with a documented record of flooding (e.g. Oradell Reservoir, Woodcliff Lake Reservoir and Tappan Reservoir);

• Directs the DEP to study and assess these reservoirs (capacity, water usage needs, etc.) and adopt rules and regulations that establish maximum water levels;

• Requires every owner of a New Jersey reservoir with a record of flooding to prepare, submit and implement a DEP-approved Flood Action Plan, which would also govern the maintenance of the flood gates for these reservoirs;

• Authorizes the Office of Emergency Management to order the water level of these reservoirs lowered just prior to or during a severe weather event if the office determines that this is in the general public interest and will reduce the severity of flooding;

• Indemnifies the reservoir owners against claims relating to the implementation of the flood plan — provided they fully comply with OEM regulations.

The idea sprung from a resolution by Rockland County legislators that asks New York State officials to determine whether United Water should lower its levels at the Lake DeForest reservoir during certain times to prevent flooding.

Similar bills have been floated in Trenton, without success. This measure aims to take the best aspects of each to provide relief for residents and business owners who have seen flooding from North Jersey reservoirs increase over the years. It was filed Thursday.

In both states, United Water has said Mother Nature – not the company’s management of its water supply – has been responsible for much of the flooding. Utility officials have also called on the federal government to buy out beleaguered residents and return the flood plains to their natural states.

The bill co-sponsored by Schroeder and Wagner notes that flooding “may result in loss of life, damage to property, and unsanitary conditions, all of which are detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of lands in the area threatened by the flooding.”

It contends that repeated flooding this year in areas such as Westwood and Hillsdale “may have been caused or exacerbated by high reservoir levels.”

As a result, it “is therefore in the public interest to minimize and prevent the loss of life and property, disruption of commerce, and impairment of the tax base by ensuring that reservoirs are kept at levels satisfactory for the public water supply but protective of the public from the dangers and losses attributed to flooding,” the measure says.

For each flood-prone reservoir that’s identified, the state Department of Environmental Protection should “study and assess the downstream river or stream capacity and the water storage capacity of the reservoir,” it says. “The department shall also study and assess the water usage needs of the residents and businesses served by the reservoir.”

What’s more, the bill directs the DEP to establish mandatory water levels for each of those reservoirs: “The maximum level for each reservoir shall be set at a level that best protects the area surrounding the reservoir against flooding while ensuring the availability of an adequate water supply for the area served by the reservoir.”

Before that can happen, the DEP would have to hold public hearings in at least three of the affected municipalities, and any others that request them, under the proposal.  If the regulations are approved, United Water and the other utilities would have 90 days to comply, it says.

Each utility would have to submit a “flood action plan” to the DEP that must “include, but need not be limited to, the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of flood gates sited at the reservoir.”

The Office of Emergency Management, a Division of the New Jersey State Police, “may order the water level of any reservoir in the State to be lowered, in a manner prescribed by the office, prior to or during a severe weather event if such action is determined by the office, after consultation with the department, to be in the general public interest and reasonably necessary to prevent or reduce the severity of flooding,” under the proposal.

The measure, if approved,  would also “indemnify any owner of a reservoir against any act or omission with respect to any claims or any cause of action arising out of the proper implementation of a flood action plan approved by the DEP under this bill, provided, however, the owner is in full compliance with any order of the Office of Emergency Management to lower reservoir levels, as may be issued pursuant to this bill.”


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Flooded Westwood, Hillsdale residents battling on new front

United Water says it will continue lowering reservoir levels to stem flooding

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Resident officially calls on mayors to protect area from Hurricane Irene floods

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Protesters call on United Water to control Pascack Valley flooding

United Water not the cause of Pascack Valley flood woes

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