Framing the Dialogue

Nature’s A Mother

Last Friday there were four tragic deaths in the City of Pittsburgh due to a flash flooding incident.  A mother, her two young daughters were killed when trapped in their van and another woman is believed to have been swept away as she fled her vehicle.  Everyone empathizes with their families and our hearts go out to them as these stories bring back tragic thoughts of loved ones that we have lost. 

Image and data from USGS StreamStats

The cause of the flooding was water!  I am not being flip, but differing news reports indicated that between 1.5 and 3 inches of rain fell in one hour.  The picture/graphic on the left is a very rough estimate of the area contributing to the flooded area (AKA the Drainage Area – shown with pink bounded in black) which was calculated to be 4.7 square miles (3008 acres).  I’d like you to notice in the table that nearly 90 percent of the area contributing to the point where the flooding occurred is urban meaning that there are a lot of surfaces that won’t absorb water and generally quickly shed it as runoff; runoff that rapidly drained to the area of the flash flood.  If you assume that there was 1.5 inches of water that fell over the 3008 acres and only 70 percent ran off that would mean that over 85 million gallons* of water was funneled through that narrow area over a very short period of time! 

There seems to be four stages of political “grief” for these types of natural disasters…

Stage One:  The news media tells us all about the victims and shares their stories.  We all want to know about them, I guess as part of the grieving process even though most of us didn’t know them.  The politicians express their sorrow at the lives lost and may even attend a funeral.  I have no doubt in their sincerity as we all feel the same way.

Oakmont woman identified as victim of flash flood

Stage Two:  The government agencies are quick to determine that the tragedy was not their fault.  If you are jaded you might think they are trying to head the blame game “off at the pass” to deflect attention. 

Storm water system likely overwhelmed in Highland Park flood

Storm water systems not at fault for flooding, official says

Stage Three:  There are the promises that this cannot be allowed to happen again.

City to close Washington Boulevard if needed

It should be noted to those of you not familiar with Pittsburgh traffic patterns that Washington Boulevard is where the flash flooding deaths occurred and is perhaps one of the busiest rush hour areas in the city.  Closing the road would be a MAJOR problem for commuters.  Using the roughest of estimates for that volume of water over an hour would yield nearly 24,ooo gallons/sec of water; any “pipe” would need to be 65 ft. in diameter to carry that much water.  Politicians are so out of touch with reality that they think that they can control nature.  After the devastating flooding seven governors from states along the Missouri River have asked the federal government to avoid a repeat of this year’s flooding that submerged thousands of acres of farmland, forced residents from their homes and rerouted trains and motorists.” 

Stage Four:  This is where they are going to either hire someone to study the issue or appoint a committee to investigate and make recommendations.  The quintessential political solution would be to do both.

City might hire outside engineer to study flooding

Untold millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent and perhaps a “solution” will be found, but I am still stuck on the simple fact that in a freak act of nature caused 85 million gallons of water (or more) to flow to a narrow area where tragically four people left this Earth too soon. 

* 1.5 inches of rain / 12 in/ft X 3008 acres X 43,560 sq ft/acre x 0.7 X 7.48 gallons/cubic ft. = 85,758,140 gallons.

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