NJ to restart study of options for often-flooded Rahway River
TRENTON – New Jersey intends to restart the Rahway River Flood Risk Management Feasibility Study with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a series of potential projects that could reduce flood risks in areas such as Cranford that were hit hard by Ida.
Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said the Rahway River study has had the attention of the DEP and Army Corps for some time and got underway in 2016, only to be terminated about two years ago.
The same federal law that jumpstarted progress on the plans to address coastal flooding in the back bays by New Jersey’s barrier islands, the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, also reauthorized the Rahway River study.
LaTourette said the DEP will soon deliver its letter of intent to serve as the non-federal sponsor of the study, “in order to get the study back on track, a promise we made to the local communities in the Rahway River basin.”
“We’re going to pay a share of the study cost in order to move it forward to find a good solution for the community,” he said.
The goal of the study is to identify feasible design alternatives to address flooding problems in the Rahway River Basin and to reduce risks in neighborhoods of Cranford, Springfield, Millburn and Rahway.
“River environments are terribly complicated, and what may work in one community to hold back potential flood waters may not be as helpful in another community given the hydrodynamics of any particular reach of the Rahway,” LaTourette said.
“What the Corps and DEP will analyze is the cost-benefit of any number of alternatives, in an effort to land on what’s called the preferred alternative,” he said. “And we have to analyze from this point forward the best preferred alternative for Rahway.”
LaTourette said “there is no silver bullet” to flood risk management and that addressing the issue takes a network of solutions, such as flood walls and levees, more greenspace and stormwater infrastructure.
“There is no one project, no one set of building regulations that is going to protect people and property and infrastructure from the ravages of storms like Ida or the increasing severity of those storms that we know we are bound for,” LaTourette said.
He said not every area would benefit from a flood wall like is helping Bound Brook.
“There are solutions in Cranford, for example, consisting of channel modifications. There are solutions in Rahway that would consist of what we call nonstructural measures for certain areas within that reach,” LaTourette said. “And overall, it would provide flood risk management for Rahway, for Cranford, for Millburn, for Springfield.”
Cranford received about 9 inches of rain from Ida, filling the first floors of homes with water from the overwhelmed Rahway River and requiring a few hundred rescues. LaTourette said the response to limit future risks must be multifaceted.
“Cranford experienced prolific flooding,” he said. “But this project even if constructed pursuant to one of the alternatives that’s been examined so far wouldn’t have stopped it. And that’s not because the project isn’t a good one. It’s because not every flood risk reduction project is meant to stop all flooding. It’s to limit the amount of potential damage. Because we need those other pieces of the network, too.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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