Flooding

Timber Creek, which normally flows through a culvert under Timberline Drive, floods the road during Tropical Storm Isaias in August 2020.

Summer 2021 has turned out to be another one for the record books in terms of severe rain events.

Unsurprisingly for many of Newark’s residents, the heavy rains associated with the remnants of tropical storm Fred in August and the remnants of Hurricane Ida last week led yet again to flooding of local roadways. This follows major flooding last summer associated with Hurricane Isaias.

One of the predicted consequences of climate change for our local area is an increased likelihood of heavy rainfall. Thus, we can expect more flooding. Is there anything that can be done about it?

Part of the flooding happens simply because the soil cannot absorb the rain as fast as it falls. Impervious surfaces – like traditional paved streets – are particularly bad at absorbing water, and this can lead to roadway flooding of streets even far away from rivers or the coast. Other flooding occurs along rivers, streams, and creeks. These waterways, that may be very small and shallow most of the time, can be called upon to channel large amounts of runoff gathered from heavy rain over much of their catchment area. Suddenly, a peaceful little trickle turns into a torrent overtopping its banks.

One way to reduce river flooding is to reduce the runoff reaching the streams during heavy rains: The watershed has to become better at absorbing the water and letting it make its way either into the groundwater or more slowly into the creeks and rivers. This is often called “stormwater management” and has become an integral part of any new development project. But it hasn’t always been that way, and even with mitigation measures, runoff during heavy storms can be quite substantial.

The City of Newark is working on reducing stormwater-related flooding, for example, by building the new stormwater pond in the park on Hillside Road, scheduled to be completed later this year.

But there are also things that the city’s residents can do, especially those living adjacent to waterways. It is important to take good care of the areas near the riverbanks to ensure that they can absorb rain and that they will not get washed away. These areas are sometimes referred to as “riparian buffers”, acting as a cushion between runoff and the rivers themselves.

Ideally, riparian buffers are planted with a variety of different native plants, including trees, bushes, ferns, grasses and woodland flowers. The variety aids in slowing down the water. The trees and bushes also have deeper roots than grass alone and are therefore better able to hold the soil in place, preventing erosion.

If lawns extend to the edge of a creek or river, they should generally not be mowed immediately next to the waterway, except for weed control and then only once or twice a year and not during nesting season.

If you are ready to upgrade your riverbank, New Garden Township, Pa., maintains a webpage with some advice on how to get started and what kinds of plants to use.

If you don’t have the time or money to invest right now but still want to reap some of the benefits of increased groundwater infiltration, decreased erosion, enhanced pollutant filtering, and improved wildlife habitat, simply stop mowing in a strip along the bank. Those living downstream will thank you.

The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.

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