Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Torrent in River Towns

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Torrent in River Towns

Article excerpt

An apparent mechanical failure at a West Milford reservoir sent a 2-foot-deep bulge of water into the Pequannock River on Tuesday, prompting a scramble of emergency response in alarmed riverside communities.

No one was injured and there was little property damage from the incident, but local officials demanded an explanation from Newark water system administrators about what happened and why rapid warnings were not issued.

About 12:43 p.m., West Milford police said, they were first alerted by residents that water from the Charlotteburg Reservoir was rapidly flowing into the Pequannock River.

For an additional 45 minutes, water from the reservoir - maintained by the Newark Watershed Conservation Development Corp. - flowed freely through an open gate that became stuck at the Charlotteburg dam. West Milford authorities said dam workers had been making repairs when the gate was opened and became stuck.

Whether the gate should have been opened, and how it was opened, remained under investigation late Tuesday.

A wave of water sped down the Pequannock River into Bloomingdale and all the way to Wayne before it subsided. Though the river rose more than 2 feet, what slight damage there was occurred in West Milford, with none reported in downstream areas of Riverdale, Butler, and Pompton Lakes.

Zinnerford Smith, head of Newark Watershed Conservation, could not offer an explanation of Tuesday's events. But he said reservoir and river levels were already high and that compounded the problem when the extra torrent hit the river. He said the National Weather Service on Friday had issued a warning to areas along the Pequannock.

"What happened this morning did not help matters, of course, but it was not the sole cause of it," Smith said.

"We did have a warning that there was a flood stage, but this had nothing to do with that," said West Milford's Office of Emergency Management coordinator, Mike Woch. "This was an error."

Echoing township police, Woch said his office received no warning from the reservoir system.

He and Riverdale Mayor Michael Dedio each requested a written report from Newark Watershed on exactly what happened. …

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