When the river thaws

| 12 Mar 2015 | 04:26

By Anya Tikka
— As the frozen denizens of the Delaware River Valley start to thaw out, the ice buildup on the river is also starting to give.

The area is no stranger to ice jams and seasonal flooding. Many remember the flood of 2007, and, going back further, the flood of 1981, when residents along the river in Westfall, Matamoras, and Port Jervis had to be evacuated.

River watchers are paying attention.

Kate Schmidt, communications assistant at the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), explained in an email that conditions at this time don’t warrant any action.

“The National Weather Service and other entities are closely monitoring the ice on the Delaware River and tributaries," she wrote. "For ice jam flooding to occur, you typically need a spike in air temperatures, coupled with heavy rain. At this time, those conditions are not in the immediate forecast."

The Mid Atlantic River Forecast Center compiles data for a graphic that shows the short-term forecast for flooding along the river, Schmidt said. The forecast on www.weather.gov/marfc/Flood_Outlook# is updated routinely.

“You will see that, currently, there is no flood potential noted in our basin for this time period,” Schmidt said.

The National Weather Service also compiles ice reports from local observers, she said.

The website www.erh.noaa.gov/bgm/textProducts/RVSBGM.txt includes detailed data relevant to Pike County area. It notes for March 10, for example, that the Laxawaxen pool is 100 percent ice-covered. It also reports a "freeze up jam" at Narrowsburg extending more than eight miles upstream to just past Damascus, with more than 90 percent ice cover.

When water rises rapidly behind the jams, which then suddenly release, flash flooding can occur.

“As you know, things can change, so it is important to keep an eye on the weather and river conditions," Schmidt added. DRBC staff are in contact with the National Weather Service and are being kept up to date on the situation.”

Watching riverfront housesPike County Emergency Services Director Tim Knapp agreed. He said EMS has been monitoring the river daily.

“We monitor future temperatures to see what kind of rapid melting is happening," he said. "At the moment, there’s no problem, no issues or concerns.”

He encouraged anyone with concerns to report it to EMS at 570-296-7700.

The Federal Emergency requires emergency services to watch the river.

“We check at least once a week,” he continued. “If the temperatures get to 70 degrees with rain fall, we would need to take measures.”

He said the floods of 1981 and 2007 didn’t have the same conditions. This year’s melting is slow and normal, and what’s to be expected.

Pike County EMS is mainly concerned about ice jams and flooding in Matamoras and Westfall, which have many riverfront houses. The other municipalities don’t have many residents right on the river.

EMA keeps in close touch with the Natioinal Park Service in Upper Delaware River Valley for rapid melting, and, if it starts to occur, Knapp would then notify local EMS services to prepare for possible measures like sandbagging and other barriers.

“The local EMS teams are very active, and do a very good job,” he said.

Matamoras has had problems with flooding in the past, with many residences in a potential river flood area. Council member and EMS Director Gary Babb could not be reached for a comment in time for this story.

Westfall township’s officials could not be reached for comment.

Milford Borough’s secretary Lizanne Samuelson said Milford Borough doesn’t have much of a problem with flooding.

“It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that there are only a few properties along road that runs next to the river," she said. "Ninety-eight percent of our residents are high up.”

She added the borough monitors the road with police, and closes it when necessary.

Delaware River Joint Bridges Commission’s spokesman Joe Donnelly said there was nothing unusual about the ice so far.

“The Delaware River floods,” he csaid. “In terms of ice threat to a bridge, we have bridges over the river in some places for 150 years. They are built to withstand the pressure of ice.”

He explained that if there’s a major rain event, "extraordinary water," it might be otherwise.

“As of right now in terms of weather forecast, we have no conformation there’s a threat, “ he said. "The ice is normal, and we’re expecting a normal slow spring thaw.”

Donnelly stressed the commission is concerned with bridges, and flooding in general is handled by the NPS, the National Weather Service, or the DRBC.