Reducing Flood Risk

Reducing Flood Risk

For New Jersey communities along the Hackensack and Hudson rivers, Superstorm Sandy was a dramatic wake-up call. Now a team of Montclair State and Rutgers University researchers has received funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to identify and evaluate ways to reduce future flood risk in these vulnerable communities.

Biology and molecular biology professor Meiyin Wu’s team is focusing on the Hackensack River communities of Carlstadt, Moonachie and Little Ferry — cities built on marshland, much of which is only three to five feet above sea level. As it was developed, the area was diked with five-foot-high berms along the Hackensack River.

“When a storm surge exceeds five feet, water spills over the berms, flooding the area,” explains Wu, who is also the director of the Passaic River Institute. “Before Sandy, some berms were damaged, providing entry points for water. Pump stations that were supposed to direct water out of the area failed due to the power outage, so water was trapped for some time after the storm.”

The team includes College of Science and Mathematics Dean Robert Prezant, a longtime member of the Passaic River Basin Flood Advisory Commission, earth and environmental studies professors Josh Galster, a hydrology and geographic information systems (GIS) specialist and Clement Alo, an earth systems modeler. Jason Beury is a research assistant on the project.

While the team is still developing specific recommendations for limiting future flooding, they’ve already identified steps that can mitigate damage. “Hospitals and fire stations should have flood prevention plans in place,” Wu says. “Berms, storm water drainage systems and pumping stations should be regularly maintained.” She also notes that residents should be aware of the New Jersey Blue Acres Floodplain Acquisitions program that buys out properties at risk of future flooding.