Even After Irene, Millstone River Flooding Hard to Pin Down
Thirty years of study have found similar problems, but solutuions that are ineffective and too costly
William Courtier understands the impact when the Millstone River floods.
Last August, Hurricane Irene pushed the river into his house on Millstone River Road and left four feet of water in the first floor after filling up the cellar.
Even though his 60-year-old house was built in the flood plain, Courtier said the river, even in the heaviest rain, had rarely reached his home, even though it flooded portions of the yard.
But changes in the river and upstream of his home where the family has lived for 26 years–and the damages caused by the Irene-related flooding–have forced Courtier to seek a buyout of his property.
He was turned down recently by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is seeking township help, so far to no avail.
For more than 30 years, local, state and federal agencies have studied the Millstone River Watershed seeking causes and solutions to the repetitive flooding.
While similar causes have been found, the solutions have most often been deemed too costly and ineffective.
But hope prevails. Hillsborough recently joined the new Raritan-Millstone Flood Commission, and armed with a potential $10,000 grant, again seeks answers.
Among the changes in the Millstone that Courtier cites are the 1995 construction of the Island Farm Weir in the Raritan River just past the point where the Millstone enters the larger river, work at a local golf course that resulted in a large drainage pipe dumping storm water into the Millstone, and construction of a gas transmission line across the river that had interrupted the natural water flow.
Then he said, there is the upriver housing development that now sends 100 vehicles an hour during rush hour along Millstone River Road, when once maybe 100 cars a day passed his house, Courtier said.
Millstone River Road is a county road that leads to Manville and the interstate highway system beyond. Like many former small country roads, it has become a major commuter route.
Courtier said he knows that the Millstone had been studied again and again to identify the causes for the flooding and to examine possible remedies.
Little matter, he said.
“We lost the fight,” he said. “Now water can claim 60 percent of my property.”
Courtier is right in one respect: The Millstone River watershed has been studied extensively, just like the vast Raritan River watershed and the Green Brook Watershed, two major watersheds in the region.
In the 1970s, Green Brook Flood Control Commission was created to study flooding in the area of the Green Brook in eastern Somerset County and northern Middlesex County.
The first phase of a flood control project in Bound Brook is nearly complete, 30 years after the first studies.
Hillsborough recently joined the new Raritan-Millstone Flood Commission, which includes Manville, Millstone, Rocky Hill, Montgomery, Franklin, Bridgewater, Somerville, South Bound Brook and Somerset County.
The commission is supporting the application by The World Institute for Natural Resources for a $10,000 Sustainable Jersey grant funded by PSE&G, which would compile a report based on the studies done on the Millstone and Raritan rivers.
The Millstone River Watershed drains approximately 184,300 acres or 288 square miles in Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth and Somerset counties. The watershed includes all or portions of 26 municipalities.
The Millstone River originates in Millstone Township, Monmouth County. Its major tributaries are Stony Brook, Beden Brook, Rocky Brook, Cranbury Brook, Shallow Brook, Cedar Brook, Devils Brook, and Heathcote Brook.
The watershed is being studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under a 2001 study agreement.
U.S. Geological Survey hydrologic data collected in 2002 indicated that major floods occurred in 1936, 1938, 1948, 1955, 1960, 1961,1971, January and October of 1996; and September 1999, which was related to Hurricane Floyd.
That 2002 study examined several mitigation techniques and two–26 upstream storage sites, levees at four locations in the lower Millstone basin in Hillsborough, Millstone Borough, East Millstone and Griggstown in Franklin Township–were found not to be cost effective, meaning they would not reduce flooding sufficiently to justify the cost.
A 2004 study, the Millstone River Watershed Flood Damage and Mitigation Analysis Report, done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, examined other mitigation efforts, including structure elevation, relocation, floodproofing and buyouts, which were also deemed ineffective and too costly.
A 2001 study by the Millstone Watershed Steering Committee, listed these issues and concerns: Riparian buffers are needed; stream bank stabilization on agricultural lands is a major problem; more farmland needs to be preserved under the farmland preservation program; groundwater recharge is needed in the Hopewell area; irrigation water management is a concern; improved pasture management is needed for horse farms; and development of farmland/conversion to non-agriculture uses is a concern.
A separate 2005 study examined the impact of flooding on Millstone Borough.
It said, in part, “Currently Millstone Borough is nearly ‘built-out’ with a few remaining large tracts of land which are currently either close to or under application for development approval. Any future large scale development within the borough is expected to be covered by the State Stormwater Management Rule which does not permit any increase in volume or rate of runoff from the pre-development condition due to development.“
“The major threat of increases in stormwater rates and volume, from within the borders of the borough, is likely to come from re-development of existing single lot sites. The so-called ‘tear-down’ phenomenon, which entails the removal of an existing residential structure and its replacement by a larger structure and its associated driveway and other impervious surfaces is occurring in other older watershed communities and could occur here,” the report continued.
The report also cited concerns about the impact of development and redevelopment outside and upstream of the borough.
A recent study by the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association called for the removal of the low-head dams, Blackwells Mills Dam and Weston Causeway Dam, for reasons that included better access for migratory fish, safety of kayakers and canoeists, and water quality improvements related to better and freer water flow.