floods

Seeing the Devastation First Hand

There are many roles a Regional Administrator must play in the daily work of protecting the environment and human health. Recently, I played what I consider to be one of my most important roles: listening to and assisting the citizens in our region as we recover from devastating flooding.

The small mountain town has been cut off because of Boulder County flood. FEMA Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) teams deployed to the state to help in Search and Rescue operations. Photo credit: Steve Zumwalt FEMA

This small mountain town has been cut off because of Boulder County flood. FEMA Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) teams deployed to the state to help in Search and Rescue operations. Photo credit: Steve Zumwalt FEMA

I saw firsthand how an extreme weather event can impact an entire state. Seven lives were lost in the floods in Colorado this year. Over 2,000 square miles spanning 17 counties have been affected. Numerous roads are destroyed and thousands of homes are lost. It’s a sobering reminder that such extreme events are predicted to become even more frequent because of the changing climate.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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King Tides and Sea Level Rise

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By Michael Craghan

For years I lived in a little beach town at the Jersey Shore in Manasquan, N.J. I took these pictures of tidal flooding in 2007. I was interested in human/environmental interaction and found a great story right where I lived. Obviously people here live with water.

This gray house sits about one foot above the spring tide.  No worries for the tourists after a day at the beach

This gray house sits about one foot above the spring tide. No worries for the tourists after a day at the beach

The same house is at center.

The same house is at center.

Little did I realize that I would move to Washington, D.C., and be working with EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries and the National Estuary programs at EPA and promoting “king tides” to raise awareness about sea level rise.

A king tide is simply the highest normally occurring tide of the year. What’s fascinating about king tides is that they provide a glimpse of the future. Potential sea level rise will make today’s king tides become the future’s everyday tides. You don’t have to imagine sea level rise because after about 1 foot of relative sea level rise, this neighborhood will flood like this almost every day.

When I was in New Jersey last December, I saw that this same house absorbed a lot of tidal flooding during Hurricane Sandy.

Flood height is shown by stains on the house and the helpful green line spray-painted on the window about five or six feet above the ground.

Flood height is shown by stains on the house and the helpful green line spray-painted on the window about five or six feet above the ground.

The flood line on the house shows how much water was here during Sandy.

The flood line on the house shows how much water was here during Sandy.

When I was back again last month, I found that the home had been demolished. I hope people take sea level rise into account as they redevelop, particularly since Fourth Avenue in Manasquan floods from the tides now.

On most of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shorelines, 2013 king tides will be coming this month. See this website to learn when. If you are at the coast, I hope you get a chance to take photos at high tide and to think about what the future will be like when sea level is higher than it is now.

About the author: Michael Craghan is a geographer who works in EPA’s office of wetlands, oceans and watersheds. He manages the Climate Ready Estuaries program, which works to help coastal places plan for sustainable futures.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bathtub Preparedness Planning

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By Michael Dexter

Growing up in Florida the threat of extreme weather brought a rush of last minute preparations, and I clearly remember the urgency involved with preparing for such events. We would clear portions of the house likely to flood, park the car on high ground, and ready an inflatable dinghy. Like many people, we had stocks of food and bottled water. However, we also filled up the bathtub with water in case service was out for awhile. I guess you could say the bathtub became our prime–make that our only–backup water supply plan.

If we lost water pressure, we used a gallon of water from the tub for flushing. If directed by our health department, we boiled water to drink. When we needed to wash, we scooped another cup out of the tub. While I understood the need for personal preparedness, I never thought about how the broader community prepared for water service interruptions, or what could have happened if that interruption lasted for more than a day or two.

Today, EPA works with communities and water utilities across the country to help them prepare for extreme weather events like floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. The EPA’s Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool helps communities and utilities understand and plan for the widespread impacts that often accompany extreme weather events. The tool helps critical community services like healthcare facilities, energy producers, and firefighters assess and increase their own preparedness level by providing tools and resources to gauge their current level of preparedness.

Last May, EPA worked with St. Clair County, Michigan on a roundtable exercise using the tool. The meeting promoted a better awareness of interdependencies between water and other community services, fostered a greater understanding of the county’s water infrastructure, discussed potential community impacts of a water service interruption during an extreme weather event, and identified actions and resources needed to respond to, and recover from, a water emergency. Drills like this exercise are a tremendous opportunity for entities like St. Clair County to think strategically about how to respond to an emergency situation that could affect thousands of its residents.

Like your community or water utility, you can prepare for the impacts of an extreme weather event. Just go to ready.gov

About the author: Michael Dexter is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant with EPA’s Water Security Division. He lived in Southwest Florida for over two decades and experienced Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Mitch among others. He currently resides in Washington, DC and works on the Community-Based Water Resiliency effort to help utilities, and the communities they serve, increase all hazard water preparedness.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Community Based Water Resiliency

by Nushat Thomas

I recently participated in a preparedness exercise at a hospital, involving a hurricane scenario that included surgery, pharmacy, food service, safety, maintenance and environmental health services. The facilitator informed the exercise participants that a storm had interrupted water services. He then turned to each group and asked how they would respond. I was concerned to hear that many groups were planning to continue patient care, meal service and instrument sterilization; and none of their plans included a backup water supply. After some time, I asked if they knew who their water utility provider was and if there was a backup water supply to support their plans – the answer was a resounding no.

My experience in this exercise mirrored many others I’ve had; many stakeholder groups outside of the water utility community are ill-prepared to continue essential services during an interruption in water services. The reality is that there are over 600 water main breaks a day in this country causing water service interruptions, not to mention impacts from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other severe weather events. In addition, service interruptions can be caused by human error, malfunctioning equipment, and vandalism or other crimes. Being prepared for interruptions in drinking water and wastewater service begins with knowing your local water utility. Do you know who your provider is for both drinking water and wastewater services? If you participate in emergency preparedness training in your community, have you ever considered including drinking water and wastewater service providers so you can learn more about their emergency operations and restoration process? Even if your role in the community or organization does not include exercise participation, this information is valuable and will assist in building your resiliency to water service interruptions.

The Community-Based Water Resiliency initiative assists communities in understanding the importance of including water utilities in emergency preparedness efforts. The Community-Based Water Resiliency (CBWR) electronic tool features a self-assessment for community members to assess their current preparedness and learn more about free tools and resources for improvement. You can help enhance water resiliency in your community by using the tool, which includes access to over 400 free resources on water preparedness. You can also help spread the word about these great, free resources by posting the new CBWR widget on your organization or personal website or blog, as well as by sharing through electronic newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.

About the author: Nushat Thomas joined EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water in 2009, as an Environmental Protection Specialist in the Water Security Division. She is the project lead for Community-Based Water Resiliency, an initiative to increase awareness of water interdependencies, and enhance water resiliency, at the community level. She is also an Environmental Science Engineering Officer in the DC Army National Guard and worked closely with the water utilities at Fort Bragg to reduce potential impacts of water loss while on active duty.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Twister TV

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA, and serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

EPA has a broad and powerful mission to protect human health and the environment. We often think of this in the context of human impacts on the environment, but sometimes it is the other way around.

In Kansas City, a threat to our well-being rears its head every spring. I could tell it arrived the other night when I flipped on the TV to watch LOST and the screen lit up with red and green splotches over a map. It was storm season again and meteorologists had pre-empted Must-see TV for Twister TV with the fervor of election-night coverage or the latest celebrity car chase.

photo of a home demolished by a twisterIt was our first warning of the season, and my wife and I scooped up the kids and raced down into the basement. The all clear came, but another siren sounded an hour or so later. We repeated the drill (this time with sleeping children) and trudged to bed after another all clear. Not until the morning did we learn that two twisters touched down next to our local drug store. Five years prior a tornado ripped through Kansas City just a mile south of our house (my wife ever the wiser of the pair dragged me inside reminding me that I was now a dad). Sadly this was reinforced two years ago when our good friends lost their home in Springfield, Missouri to a twister. They had a newborn, which, as my friend told me, was the only reason they got off the couch and ran to the closet that saved their life.

Last year was a rough one for natural disasters in our Region. Everyone remembers the devastation that occurred in Greensburg, Kansas. At EPA, we get called in to assist with public health and environmental problems in the aftermath of events like the tornado in Greensburg or the flooding that struck Coffeyville, Kansas. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of our neighbors, especially the occasional ones who ignored warnings.

Yes, newscasters tend towards exaggeration and embellishment to ensure rapt audiences, but don’t let that overwhelm the importance of heeding the underlying message. Next time you are faced with a flood, fire, hurricane, or tornado warning make sure you get yourself and family to a safe place instead of watching TV. And if anybody in Kansas City needs to know what happened on LOST let me know… I DVR’d the re-broadcast.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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