The floodgates on the Pompton Lakes dam will be manually opened Saturday in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy in an effort to relieve possible downstream flooding for residents who live below the dam.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a press release on the decision Friday night.
“New Jersey’s reservoirs are designed to provide water, not for flood control,” DEP Commissioner Martin said in a statement. “But given the situation, we decided we needed to get as much water out of the reservoir systems as possible, creating void space for runoff from the storm.”
The DEP will manually open the gates and keep them open to drain five feet of water from the lake. This should allow the water to safely pass through downstream communities. The gates will go back to automatic operation once the water is drained.
Assemblyman Scott Rumana and other local and state officials have been asking the DEP if the gates could be opened ahead of the storm to avoid the catastrophic flooding that plague residents downstream last year after Tropical Storm Irene.
“We’re getting everything that we asked for,” said Rumana, a member of the Passaic River Basin Flood Advisory Committee.
The gates are a sore subject for residents of Wayne, Pompton Lakes, and other municipalities who live below them in flood zones.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed the gates to open automatically when the water behind them reaches a certain height. Since they became operational in 2007, residents have said they've made flooding downstream worse.
"Those gates haven't done a thing to make anything better for anybody living below them," said Julie Smith, a Pompton Lakes resident who's been flooded four times since the gates came online. "At least now the DEP is listening to us and opening them early."
Governor Chris Christie ordered the gates raised the day before Tropical Storm Irene hit North Jersey in August 2011. Despite three feet of water being drained behind them, the gates were closed before Irene hit and lowered after much of the rain fell. Water rushed out from behind the dam and caused the worst flooding in the area in 100 years, residents said.
“If the storm comes in and the water starts rising, if the gates are already open we’ll eliminate that rush of water we experienced last year,” Rumana said.
The Boonton, Charlottesburg, and Wanaque reservoirs will also be allowed to drain, Rumana said.