Last updated: February 16. 2013 11:33PM - 644 Views

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Duryea resident Lorraine Henrich says the region needs a long-term fix to Susquehanna River flooding that will help communities not protected by levees.

She points to the nearby Francis E. Walter Dam on the Lehigh River as a model of success controlling water flow and said a similar project north of Tunkhannock could erase the need for levees and buyouts in the Wyoming Valley.

‚??Haven‚??t we had enough? Maybe it‚??s time for them to start looking at other solutions,‚?Ě said Henrich, a chemist who returned to the area four years ago from Philadelphia. ‚??Think of the millions and millions of dollars in property damage every time it floods.‚?Ě

Henrich will soon meet with elected officials in all flood-prone communities along the Susquehanna to present her idea and urge them to sign a letter seeking federal action. She also will ask the officials to provide the letter to citizens for their signatures.

She believes a utility company would be interested in bearing some or all construction costs if the government would allow a hydroelectric dam.

Henrich, 67, is prepared for a backlash of skepticism because the national trend has been toward dam removal. A dam would require a massive parcel of land along the river to hold water, and government regulations have tightened since the Francis E. Walter Dam was built in the 1960s.

U.S. Army Corps response

Chris Augsburger, public affairs chief at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering in Baltimore, said the agency can‚??t weigh the pros and cons of Henrich‚??s idea without analyzing the specifics.

‚??For us as a federal agency to consider flood-risk management solutions, we must first have congressional authorization and appropriations to conduct a thorough and comprehensive study on what best addresses flooding in the area,‚?Ě Augsburger said.

The agency supports community efforts to explore ideas that reduce flood risks and improve public safety and security, he said.

‚??We also don‚??t limit ourselves to just one option. We use the best science available to study the conditions and develop a host of viable alternatives, from structural ‚?? such as a dam or levee ‚?? to non-structural ‚?? such as a flood warning system, or any combination of each,‚?Ě he said.

Finding the most ‚??effective, affordable and environmentally viable‚?Ě solution is the goal, he said.

Henrich said she came up with the idea because she spends a lot of time fishing and hiking at the Francis E. Walter Dam, which stopped flooding in Jim Thorpe and other downstream Lehigh River communities.

More levees would be ineffective, Henrich believes.

If a levee was built in West Pittston, which is unlikely because of the cost, it would send more water into Duryea, she said, comparing levees to a girdle.

‚??It holds in the tummy, but the excess pops up above, like a muffin top. Levees don‚??t make water go away, they just push it somewhere else,‚?Ě she said.

Economic benefits touted

Henrich believes some upstate area would be receptive to a hydroelectric dam because it would create jobs and a lake with recreational opportunities.

Without a dam, more homes and businesses in the Wyoming Valley will be forced to leave through buyouts after future floods, she said.

‚??Take this problem water and turn it into something good,‚?Ě she said.

Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority Executive Director Jim Brozena cautioned that no flood-control system is a cure-all.

He pointed to the Johnstown flood of 1889, when the South Fork dam failed, releasing 20 million tons of water and killing 2,209 people.

‚??Dams ‚?? like levees ‚?? have tops on them, and if you overtop a dam or the dam fails, you have Johnstown,‚?Ě Brozena said.

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