Sunday, March 21, 2010

Climate change, development blamed for rapidly rising number of '100-year storms'

A looong piece by J.J. Huggins and Jill Harmacinski in the Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Massachussetts): In their worst form, they were known as "100-year storms": catastrophes that occurred once a century and caused devastating floods. And yet, in just the past four years, three times the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire have been hard-hit by storms that once came with interludes of decades between them.

The most recent deluge was last week, when residents of Andover and Lawrence were forced out of their homes as their properties became drenched and heavily damaged by the waters of the Spicket and Shawsheen rivers. In New Hampshire, residents of Salem and surrounding communities were also affected by the flooding.

…As officials tally the cost of the latest storm, people are wondering why these floods keep happening. And they want to know what, if anything, the region can do to prepare for the next onslaught. Local environmental groups say the blame lies with a variety of culprits: development, outdated flood data, and beavers, to name a few. It's not a case of more rain falling, officials say. Rather, storms are increasingly intense, and that's courtesy of climate change.

….Finegold, the state representative from Andover, said he wants to meet with Andover Town Manager Reginald "Buzz" Stapczynski, staff from the state Department of Environmental Protection and local residents on the topic of preventing future floods. "Taking on Mother Nature is incredibly hard and there may not be a solution, but I think we need to try to exhaust all possibilities," he said. "I've lived in the town for 30-plus years, and I've never seen Shawsheen Plaza flooded the way it has been flooded."

…Lilly said learning acceptance, and being prepared, is a big part of the solution. "…Among his suggestions? Limit development in flood-prone areas, build better stormwater management structures to improve drainage, and take care of Mother Earth.

"The larger picture is that we need to re-examine our relationship with our environment," Lilly said. "Instead of looking at it as something to control and remake for our needs, we have to start working within the limits of sustainability and recognize that natural systems work well if we leave them alone."

The Spicket River boathouse in Methuen, MA, around 1900

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