Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dombroski: "The Dikes Aren't High Enough"

The Susquehanna River is expected to crest at 41 feet, the exact height of the dike as it stretches along Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, Forty Fort, and Wyoming. Any increase in dike levels would mean flooding for the region. One man, Thomas Dombroski, has been saying for a while that the dikes are not high enough, and that they would need to be 56 feet in order to withstand another Agnes-type of rainfall.

Hurricane Agnes was the cause of the Flood of 72, perhaps the greatest disaster to ever hit a part of Pennsylvania. At the time, the Susquehanna River crested at 41 feet, so the Army Corps of Engineers said that a height of 41 feet was sufficient to stop another Agnes. But according to Dombroski, the reason they refused to go above 41 feet was that it would cost them more money and that another Agnes was deemed to be unlikely.

Dombroski, head of the Wyoming Valley Flood Protection Committee, had several of his properties damaged in the 1972 flood and still owns several properties along the river. By using physics calculations, which were independently seconded by a Wilkes University professor, Dombroski found that the dikes would have to be 56 feet high to withstand another Agnes. The reason is that although the river crested at 41 feet, when it did so, much water had already spilled out from the river bed to the flood plain. Dombroski measured the area of the flood plain and took samples of the height of floodwater in various locations. He then used physics calculations to flop the floodwater back onto the river bed and concluded that it would have reached a height of 56 feet there. The reason he was able to do this was that he assumed steady state conditions for the river because the river was flowing at the same speed upstream in Tunkhannock as it was downriver in Nanticoke. Therefore, any water that spilled past the banks would have stayed atop the river and added to its height had it not spilled over the dikes.

Lord willing, the river's height will not clear 41 feet. And if it comes close, Wyoming Valley residents may have Dombroski in part to thank for no flooding, because he did a lot of work in the 80's via the Flood Protection Committee to get the dikes raised to 41 feet. This entailed convincing local leaders to agree to work toward acquiring some federal and state funds to build a new dike that would be than the 36 feet it had previously stood at. The scare of 1996 prompted Bill Clinton to guarantee that the project to raise the dikes to 41 feet would finally begin.

When asked his opinion on the 41 feet, Dombroski reflects "we took what we could get". Hopefully what they got will be enough.
SOURCE: "Pennsylvania Issue: Are the Dikes High Enough" King's College, PA. May 2011

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