Is the Flood of 2011 a defining moment for the North Country?

Yesterday, I stood in the living room of Charity Marlatt high on a hillside over Keene Valley.  Her home sits on a big slab of glacial soil and rock that’s slowly oozing downward.

Weeks of heavy rain have dislodged a section of the hillside roughly a mile in circumference.

Meanwhile, the 600-mile shoreline of Lake Champlain remains underwater, with banks eroded, homes and businesses flooded.

The Raquette River reached a level that Mike Lynch, at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, described as a 500-year high.

The torrent devastated homes, damaged wastewater treatment plants, and stretched emergency responder crews to the limit.

Even when the rain stops (maybe Saturday) it could take weeks for hillsides to stabilize and lakes to return to normal levels.

With Memorial Day weekend drawing near, that means the brief, vitally important tourism season is imperiled for many communities.

It’s difficult sometimes to put events like this one in perspective. Is the flood a big enough disaster to really change things in the North Country?  I’m not sure.

But I do suspect that some towns and villages could feel the effects for a longer period than, say, after the massive ice storm of 1998.

How come?

First, because many communities, and their economies, are more fragile now than they were just a dozen years ago.

We’re grayer than we were back then, thanks to long-standing demographic trends.  And many of our businesses have been weakened by the recession.

It strikes me as symbolic that Port Henry — one of the hardest hit communities — no longer has an Aubuchon hardware stores downtown where you can buy the supplies needed in a disaster like this.

How will shops and markets in Willsboro, Essex and Westport get by if the crucial ferry to Vermont remains closed for several more weeks?

Farmers, too, are struggling with flooded, mud-choked fields at a time when they’re also faced with rising fuel costs, and unstable milk prices.

Meanwhile, a lot of local leaders I talk to are skeptical about the ability of New York state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to offer much help.

New York state is basically broke.  And FEMA is busy wrestling with natural disasters in the South, the Midwest, and the Mississippi River valley that make our floods look downright tame.

Who knows how this will all play out? People here are resilient, creative, and they’ve weathered big storms before.

Maybe a year from now, the flood won’t look like such a big deal.

Still, for hundreds of families and business owners — from the Adirondacks to Great Sacandaga, the Hudson Valley and Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence Valley — there are clearly some bitter weeks and months ahead.

We should all keep this in mind as the floods slip out of the headlines and the summer weather finally arrives.  For many of our neighbors, the effects of the high water will linger for a long time.

What do you think?  How has the Flood of 2011 affected you, your family, and your community?  Comments welcome below.

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16 Comments on “Is the Flood of 2011 a defining moment for the North Country?”

  1. Jim Bullard says:

    Not to worry Brian. According to the ‘end timers’ they are scheduled to be raptured up to heaven this Saturday and the world will end in total chaos.

    Seriously though I’m lucky to live on a hilltop where flooding isn’t a problem. Water in the West Branch of the St. Regis is high but it’s been higher when ice dams have back it up during ice out. We got through the ice storm, we’ll get through this.

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  2. pete g says:

    practicing intelligent building principles has given way to the need to be on the scenic waterfront. there was a time when you didn’t need to live/own the waterfront property, you could live on that hilltop and visit the shoreline without being charged with tresspassing.
    as far as the sliding hillsides, well The same rules may apply. water runs downhill, and you can’t push a rope.
    sad, but not suprised.

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  3. Bret4207 says:

    I think it’s worth considering that the vast majority of people, even locally, are far more aware of the possibility of poor New Orleans being flooded than they are of their neighbors plight. What’s even more striking to me is that so few people seem to be bothered by our gov’ts decision to spare NO and ruin hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of acres of farmlands. Where is the logic in destroying the food supply that feeds the cities we’re sacrificing our farmlands to save?

    Building on hillsides, in swamps, is fire prone areas…none of it makes sense. So if you build in a dangerous area, why are we so surprised when nature, weather and man made issues combine to give us a giant dope slap?

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  4. michael coffey says:

    Bret, you can blame people for building in dangerous areas. I don’t know why you would, unless there is some justice in saying that New Orleans should not have been settled and no one should live in Port Henry. What none of those communities–hundreds of years old–foresaw (nor did politicians, captains of industry) was that climate change would exact damage on all manner of natural ecosystems. This is a climate change problem, and though people can always move to higher ground, heavy rain is not the only climate-related threat to life and property. I list below the findings in 2007 of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change):

    Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
    Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely (>90%) due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas concentrations.
    Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized, although the likely amount of temperature and sea level rise varies greatly depending on the fossil intensity of human activity during the next century (pages 13 and 18).[41]
    The probability that this is caused by natural climatic processes alone is less than 5%.
    World temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 °C (2.0 and 11.5 °F) during the 21st century (table 3) and that:
    Sea levels will probably rise by 18 to 59 centimetres (7.1–23 in) [table 3].
    There is a confidence level >90% that there will be more frequent warm spells, heat waves, and heavy rainfall.
    There is a confidence level >66% that there will be an increase in droughts, tropical cyclones, and extreme high tides.
    Both past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium.
    Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values over the past 650,000 years.

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  5. PNElba says:

    Uh oh, climate change…..here we go. But let’s also point out that the Mississippi is seriously affected by the building of dikes that prevented flooding in some areas with resulting severe flooding in other areas. Don’t build on the river bank? Well, I guess 200 years ago when the river was a major means of transportation it probably seemed like a good idea.

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  6. pete g says:

    keep in mind 200 years or 2000 for that matter is a split second on the larger clock that ticks for planet earth. climate change is a fact of life for the earth, us fleas have little clue.
    here’s a little bite from my wifes relatives in japan. when cleaning up debris recently, they found granite markers about 600 years old that said in essence, do not build seaward of these markers. the community streached WAY past that ancient dotted line.

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  7. Walker says:

    I for one would be a lot more concerned about the situation in Keene Valley if these were people’s year-round homes instead of luxury vacation homes.

    It really seems a stretch to me to compare the flooding in the North Country to what’s gone on in Japan or New Orleans or the recent tornadoes down south, let alone the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the earthquake in Haiti last year.

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  8. pete g says:

    it wasn’t a comparison to japan. it was a statement relating time, man’s memory, and even when forewarned, his foolishness.

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  9. Bret4207 says:

    At last PNElba and I agree on something. Prior to the Mississippi being “managed” floods were considered a common occurrence, something you realized could happen. (Of course all this happened long before we had AlGore and billion dollar industries based on fear of weather) Same thing in our local areas. Ice flows damaging the shoreline or flooding low lying areas was a common concern each spring, you dealt with it. In a series of good years you got by fine and thanked your lucky stars. In a series of bad years you took it as well as you could and got on with life. This idea that everything should remain static and that large metropolitan areas can exist in flood prone areas without risk is simply dreaming. This has nothing to do with “climate change” but rather with mans arrogance at thinking he can control nature.

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  10. michael coffey says:

    To Bret: “man’s arrogance at thinking he can control nature”? The question is not whether we can control nature. It’s weather we can control ourselves to stop effecting nature in a way that endangers our prospects as a species. That people refuse to see the obvious facts in this case baffles me and i wonder what principle or belief they are protecting.

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  11. Bret4207 says:

    Michael, the “obvious facts” in this case are that we’re in a changing weather cycle that brought us very heavy rains, snowfall, etc. We’ve altered the landscape enough that those waters no longer soak into the ground, and we’ve added levees, abutments and dams to our rivers that are based on seasonal averages. Along comes some wet years and are so arrogant as to think our puny efforts will stop water from seeking it’s own path? That’s pretty arrogant “weather” you think so or not.

    This idea that our cyclical weather patterns, warm and cool cycles, etc. are somehow “wrong” or unnatural is more arrogance heaped on the pile. Yes, man has an effect, especially at the smaller levels. I’m in the group that says if you want to fix things the first thing to do is start tearing down our cities and ripping up pavement. A sustainable world based on common sense and responsible stewardship and not the climate change industries fear mongering would be much nicer place to live IMO.

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  12. funny…the floods have been going on for weeks longer than katrina and still no obama? bush waits a day and a half and the media freeked out

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  13. Walker says:

    Uh, Bret, if you tear down the cities and rip up the pavement, where are people going to live and work? I think you’d have to start with draconian population control before you make your approach work.

    And Bret, there may be some money on the side of the Global Climate Change, but all the really big money is on the side of Climate Change Denial. Where is there money on the Climate Change side to equal Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas and the Koch Brothers?

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  14. Bret4207 says:

    Uh, Walker, in my little dream world fantasy where we rip up the mega cities we’d move the people into small cities/large villages that linked with producers in the nearby countryside to provide food, textiles and wood products. But it’s just a dream, don’t worry.

    BTW- how about GE and big solar, big “Green”, big wind, etc.? There are huge amounts in play, don’t fool yourself into thinking this is a one sided David vs Goliath issue. It doens’t take a genius to figure it out. If we can make fossil fuels unaffordable then the guy holding the tech for electric cars, solar power, wind generation, etc will be the next”Big Oil”. Make it illegal to produce your own power or fuels ( the recent OWB legislation for instance) and you FORCE people to buy what your buddies company is selling. Outlaw wood stoves period (it’s for the CHILDREN!) and then we are forced to buy heat from someone, aren’t we? Keep chipping away and before long you have a peasant class with few options. Another example- a few years back they mandated emissions testing on all cars after 1996 model year IIRC. I think that was 2001. You would think that as the vehicles got older they’d up the date- wrong. If you’re like me and own a 1997 truck, a 14 year old truck, you have to pass the same test as a brand new truck/car. Why? To clean the air? No. To force you to buy a new car, or newer car, keeping the auto companies making money. There is simply no other explanation for sure an ridiculous law. a 16 year old vehicle is exempt, but not a 14 year old vehicle?!!!

    Nope, this is just chipping away a little at a time, all with good reasons, or so we’re told. In the end we’ll be no more than slaves. But keep trying to blame it on the Right and ignore what the Left is doing right now. Just the other day the Sec Treas. (IIRC) said the gov’t could force people to buy certain foods. Think about that. If they can force you to buy health insurance they can force you to buy foods or clothing or whatever else they deem proper. That’s not some Right wing nut, that’s Obamas boy talking.

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  15. Walker says:

    Bret, you’re treading on the edge of tin-foil hat stuff here!

    Which is not to say there aren’t plenty of folks out there trying to turn us all into peasants, but they sure don’t need to make up climate change conspiracies to do it. Look around! We’re halfway there already, and marketing and infotainment outlets is all they need to get people to vote themselves into the poor house.

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  16. Bret4207 says:

    Whats more tin foil Walker- the idea that the State wants people to get their older cars off the road and buy newer ones (sales tax, registration tax, title fees, more income tax from the dealer, etc) or the idea that there’s a vast right wing conspiracy out to slander poor President Clinton over some false sexual misconduct allegations? Or that GW Bush had the Trade Centers blown up? Or that there was absolutely no proof of any wrong doing on Sadams part post 9/11- like that yellow cake he didn’t have….well, okay, he did have 550 tons of it, but Joe Wilson said……well, never mind that.

    You can use another word for peasant, but control is control and someone is always in power. If you think the UN IPCC doesn’t have more than a few people who see this a a way to power…well, you have a different view of people than I do. It an industry now, whatever the motivations of the early proponents were.

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