Are Flood Control Dams a Dangerous Placebo?
Are flood control dams a dangerous placebo? This is a question that has remained unanswered since the devastating floods unleashed on the Northeast since August 1955. Hurricane Diane caused the greatest amount of damage followed Hurricane Connie by a week was the nation’s first billion dollar storm because it caused more then a billion dollars worth of property damage. In addition it caused more then 200 people to lose their lives.
The flood waters had not even receded before the U.S. Army Corps busied themselves with plans for protecting the areas affected by the flood by a series of great flood control dams. Many of the rivers and streams in the area affected by flooding from Hurricane Diane quickly sprouted flood control dams, some small, others blocking major rivers. In many places the building of these dams forced the displacement of the people living behind the dam.
These people were forced from their homes when their property was seized by the state under eminent domain. They were paid a pittance for their homes and property, and had to pick up their lives somewhere else. Their houses were razed, and in many places their land was bulldozed to provide water storage volume for the new dam.
A half century after these flood control dams were built what still begs an answer is are these dams really safe in case of another flood the proportion of the floods of August 1955 caused by Hurricane Diane?
Historically, the New England area has been visited by floods of even greater proportions then the flood caused by Hurricane Diane. The city of Winsted, Connecticut that was devastated more then any other city in 1955 suffered a far worse flood in March 1870. This flood caused the dam at Highland Lake to be raised 10 feet. Our Great-Grandfather hauled the stone to the dam site in his large wagons that usually hauled ice from the lake.
A week before Hurricane Diane struck Winsted had already been visited by Hurricane Connie that filled Highland Lake to overflowing stage. The lake was still overflowing when Hurricane Diane struck a week later. The 10 feet of safety built into the lake in 1870 was compromised resulting in untold damage in downtown Winsted downhill from the lake about 100 feet lower.
The present policy at the lake that is now controlled by a landowner’s association is to keep the lake filled to overflowing stage throughout the summer. This flies in the face of the past history of both the lake and downtown Winsted. The most devastating floods are usually associated with hurricanes that occur during the summer months.
The Corps of Engineers built a dam on Sucker Brook that flows into the Lake. Many of the people living around the lake think that this dam will protect them from further floods even though the dam has fallen into disrepair.
The 1955 Flood wasn’t caused by one hurricane but rather two that struck in tandem Hurricanes Connie and Diane. Connie caused the lake to be filled, and Diane made it flood the city of Winsted. It is not impossible for a similar situation to happen in the future where back-to-back storms strike.
When you fill a bathtub with water to the brim what happens if you add more water? Everybody knows that – if you add a lot of water you have a flood on your hands. That is the situation that prevails with a flood control dam. This almost happened in 1985, thirty years after the flood of 1955 when the flood control dam on the Farmington River at the former Colebrook River had reached within less then an inch of flowing over. This was the full tub of water if another storm had followed the first one as Diane followed Diane in 1955 where would the added load of rainwater have gone?
Many people live below these ticking time bombs thinking they are perfectly safe when in truth they are in mortal danger from one of these flood control dams!