Hurricane Irene: The Aftermath a Pipe Dream?

by on December 3rd, 2014
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It has been over a week since Hurricane Irene reeked havoc on the East Coast and on Sunday President Obama personally visited Patterson, New Jersey to get a first hand view of the destruction. The Gulf States have been hit with a storm causing major flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi while parts of Texas are suffering from the worst drought in memory.

Hurricane Irene caused flooding not only in coastal communities but the massive rainfall created devastating inland flooding. Many communities were underwater because river and stream beds could not handle the peak loads caused by the deluge. President Obama will address a joint session of Congress this week; his goal is to spark employment and he is expected to propose government sponsored infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy.

Let’s put the politics aside and imagine a nationwide network of water pipelines. How much damage could be prevented if we could proactively move some of the water from areas that are expected to flood to locations in desperate need of rain?

Sounds a bit far fetched? New York City’s water supply is in the Catskill Mountains about one hundred miles north of the City. Water is stored in an upstate reservoir system and sent to the City by several large tunnels. Oil flows through a pipeline system from Alaska south through Canada to reach refineries.

Is It Possible?

In theory it is not much different than the nationwide rail system; the rail system is controlled by switches and trains can be rerouted. Like train yards, reservoirs could be built into the system to hold water. Filtration facilities could be built to ensure the water is safe for crops and livestock. On any given day in America millions of tons of freight are moved by trains, trucks, ships and planes. Why not millions of gallons of water by a network of pipelines?

The satellite technology available today has made weather forecasting fairly accurate. Using Hurricane Irene as an example, forecasters were able to predict the volumes of rain to expect. Additionally, forecasters here in New Jersey knew when the rivers would crest and given the rainfall how long it would take them to recede to pre flood levels.

Irene was a predictable event with advanced notice; if a systematic pipeline were in place would it be possible to lower the water levels in the rivers prior to the rain? A pipeline probably would not have helped the coastal towns getting battered by ocean waves but could minimize inland damage caused by rain generated flooding.

In New Jersey alone damage estimates are well into the billions of dollars. How much of that damage could have been prevented with a well engineered pipeline network? If we could have moved fresh water to the drought areas of Texas would that have helped to save crops? Would it be possible to move large quantities of water to wildfire prone areas?

This year we have seen floods in the Plains States and proactive water releases to minimize flood damage. Unlike tornadoes most floods are a predictable weather related event. Is a national water pipeline network feasible? How many billions of dollars in damages could we prevent over ten years?

For years people have used dams and aqueducts to control massive volumes of water. Is it time to consider a pipeline or is it a pipe dream?


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