When Hurricane Ida descended on Lambertville, N.J. this past Wednesday night, the nonprofit for which I volunteer and on whose board I serve was assisting the city to complete final steps to release FEMA Pre-disaster Mitigation funding aimed at reinforcing the Swan Creek embankment on which our historic headquarters building sits.
Spurred into action three years ago by an early spring high water event that removed a portion of our riverbank, and with the help of community members and our mentors at FEMA, our goal was to support the owners of the building in question to secure the role of Hibernia Fire Station as symbol of community service. But then Ida happened.
Today the riverbank we had intended to fortify is gone, along with our backyard, a portion of the building, and – for the moment – our high hopes to save a precious historic structure. But we are not alone in this plight. Our neighbors up and down Swan Creek have also endured years of damage from high water in the creek. Many of them were as devastated or more.
One member of the community, living high above North Main Street, reached out to me in an email to share her observation that, at the height of the storm, an enormous detention basin – covered solely by an expanse of mowed lawn – first filled to the brim and then proceeded to dump its runoff water into Swan Creek.
A naturalist and native plant expert, she pointed out to me that their detention basin, and many others like it – as well as any number of open areas in the watershed – can instead be protected with plants that in nature have always helped retain water in the soil, forming water tables instead of floods. She urged that we begin to advocate for more awareness of the power of remediation, and ended by saying, “We are all in this together.”
Swan Creek and other watershed areas above Lambertville have become engines of destruction during high water events, in part because the nature of the watershed has been altered by such things as lawns instead of meadows or woodlands. Much more water is released from the watershed as a result, heading down slope at higher velocity, and then running headlong into a cresting Delaware River, which effectively blocks the creeks from draining and relieving upstream pressure on our neighbors and ourselves.