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  • Annie Jacobs

Big Storms + forests & wetlands = less flood damage

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

July 27, 2021

Annie Jacobs

On Wednesday, July 14, around 4:30 pm, I left my apartment in Troy to drive to Albert Family Community Forest out on the Plateau. A few of us RPA staff and board members planned to meet on the swinging bench and Nature Play Area, under the trees.

We had no idea what was in store.

It poured briefly as I approached the Plateau, and a board member called to warn me about flash flooding in Averill Park and Sand Lake. She didn't think I would get very far in my small Toyota, but I wanted to try.

After several very iffy water crossings—and having to maneuver around a driveway that had washed into the road—I met a hurdle that I couldn't conquer:

At Old Daley on Crooked Lake, an ephemeral "river" rushed across the road into a flooded parking lot. The rain was so hard and fast that I couldn't see what was going on much of the time. Only trucks were getting through.

"Worse than Irene"

Some staff were already out at Albert finishing up Day 3 of Rensselaer Youth Outdoors's weeklong Forest Conservation for Teens program. Others, like me, were trying to get there. I had no idea how soon, or how safely, any of us would make it home.

Thankfully, we all did, but it was clear that this storm—with three to five inches of rain in two hours—had left behind a lot of damage.

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin declared a state of emergency. He and David Fleming, Nassau Town Supervisor, both say the storm was more damaging than Hurricane Irene in 2011.

Building Resilience

The next day, after a morning delay, Celia Kutz who coordinates Rensselaer Youth Outdoors saw the storm as an opportunity for learning. She realized that she and her group could help by clearing the trails at Albert of debris. "The theme of the week was water," said Celia, "and this lesson fit right in."On Friday morning, I drove out to Albert to visit Celia and the teens. I passed by work crews. The roads looked almost white-washed, telling the story of Wednesday's storm.

As I drove up Hayes Road to the community forest, I was struck by how relatively normal things looked. The road was in good shape, and the parking area, kiosk, and Nature Classroom cabin were just fine.

The teens had moved on entirely and were out taking solo time in the woods. Later, one young man told me that the old well they'd spent the week repairing had withstood the storm. Each and every stone that they had added was still in place

The young participants of Rensselaer Youth Outdoors' July Forest Conservation for Teens program spent a week restoring an old well by hand and learning about water quality on and around the plateau.

The Rensselaer Plateau's 3000 + acres of wetlands act as giant sponges, absorbing rainfall and minimizing flood waters. Big storms in Rensselaer County are less damaging than they could be thanks to these wetlands. Sphagnum moss, pictured above, is part of the "sponge effect," able to hold more than 20 x its weight in water!

Photo by Kim Clune

Resilience is a fancy word for what RPA members and supporters are working toward in Rensselaer County. We can envision in through healthy human communities with clean air and water and places to play; large forests that sequester carbon and allow animals to move across connected corridors; and wetlands that buffer the impacts of climate change.

Conserving these forests and wetlands now, while we still can, is critical for a healthy future. Projects like our 2019 Poesten Kill Watershed Flood Mitigation Assessment study will help us support the Plateau's natural flood control systems.

This vision keeps the board, staff, and volunteers quite busy over here. But one conserved acre—and one 14-year old in work gloves—at a time, we ARE creating a resilient future.

Together with you, because that's what it's going to take.


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