Storm zigs instead of zags, Valley spared

UPDATE: There’s little chance now that we’ll have any more rain before sun-up — good news for people in low-lying areas. For this night, folks along the Pascack Brook and below the Woodcliff Lake Reservoir can sleep tight.

Photo Credit: Jim Moldow
Photo Credit: Jim Moldow
Photo Credit: Jim Moldow
Photo Credit: Jim Moldow

It’s a peaceful end to what, for some, had been a nerve-wracking extended weekend.

The sirens in Westwood sounded at precisely 5:02 p.m. Monday, amid a torrent of rain and an expected flood of water released from the Woodcliff Lake reservoir, which had already crested before the first drops fell this evening.

Ealier predictions were that the storm wouldn’t  let up until  9 or 10. After that, the expectancy of diminished greatly, but not entirely, according to

The worst fears won’t be realized, however, as the storm settled primarily over New England.

Reports now are that we’ll likely see rain again around mid-afternoon. But forecasts originally were for heavy rain today and all we had was one quick, hard soak.

The highest floodwater reported so far from this weekend remains the foot and a half from Sunday.

Woodcliff Lake Reservoir (Photo by TOM SMITH)

United Water warned that it would release water to mitigate the flooding, but there wasn’t much choice:
The Woodcliff Lake Reservoir hit its 95-foot peak early this afternoon.

That was either the third or fourth time in the past two days, including one flood that closed the Westwood K-Mart and sent water rushing through neighborhoods full of anxious low-landers.

“This is like being part of the ‘Lost’ TV series,” Karolina Marin
of Westwood wrote on the “Flood NO More” Facebook page on Sunday. “We are in place, we can’t leave. There is water everywhere. There is a ‘noise’ before the ‘monster’ comes. We are rescued in boats.”

Before midnight today, the Pascack Valley had absorbed roughly four inches of rain. The Pascack Brook at Woodcliff Lake shot up in minutes from a little under three feet to nearly 4 1/2 feet around 11 p.m., sending water pouring through storm drains, before beginning to recede a short time later. By 1:30 a.m., it was under 3 feet, according to USGS real-time flood data.

Levels at the 108-year-old Woodcliff Lake Reservoir began steadily rising around 3 a.m. Sunday, a few hours after the first deluge. It shot up a full inch in under three hours, according to data provided by USGS.

Shortly after noon, residents were calling on United Water to begin relieving the reservoir, in order to avoid a catastrophe. Once the water reaches 95 feet above sea level, it not only clears the Woodcliff Lake dam: United Water’s automated system opens flood gates, releasing water — unless the utility decides to override the system.

It’s been a serious bone of contention in the area, with competing demands: keeping the water supply for a huge portion of North Jersey plentiful versus keeping property — and perhaps even lives — safe.

Local authorities said controlled releases finally began around 6 o’clock Sunday night.


A quartet of floods over a little more than three months this year destroyed hot water heaters, furnaces, and personal property, members of the Flood No More group said during a protest outside United Water’s Old Hook Road headquarters in Harrington Park. READ MORE….

Hillsdale businessman Jim Moldow bought 10-foot-long, pressure-treated wood a foot high, along with three rows of sandbags interlaced with extra thick tarp, to use as a garage flood barrier (see photo, below).

Others have suggested looking into the services offered by DoorDam, whose motto is: “The Flood Stops Here.”

Courtesy: Jim Moldow

Several of them have long been battling United Water over releases made quickly without warning. They have called for steady releases in advance of oncoming storms, in addition to other potential measures of mitigation. This time around, there weren’t many complaints.

But there was plenty of worry.

“Since very early on [Sunday], it’s been a constant watch over gages and water levels, walks through the stream, emails and phone calls to officials and neighbors, prayers and another day of stress not knowing if they will have to leave their house in a boat in the middle of the night, or if they will be able to go to work next day,” Marin wrote around 8 p.m.

In a highly unusual move, the Pascack Valley Waterway Management Task Force met at the Westwood Municipal Complex on Thursday with reporters in attendance — but with residents barred. Representatives of United Water, a private company, were there, but so were Westwood Mayor John Birkner and other public officials.

Birkner called the meeting informational, so that he could devise recommendations for the public and surrounding towns. But with reporters present, it couldn’t be classified as a closed session. By the same token, no single public body had a quorum of members present.

No one has announced any formal legal action over the proceeding. The media in attendance expressed no public objection.

Jim Glozzy, vice-president and general manager of United Water, said the problems are “more complicated” than residents claim. In fact, he says, reservoir operations “actually benefit” residents below.

Hillsdale and Westwood are in a flood plain that was once swampland and suffers from an “inadequate stream channel capacity that causes the banks of the Pascack Brook to overflow when it rains,” Glozzy contends, in a letter published Aug. 11 in The Bergen Record.

“The residents want United Water to release water from the reser­voir based on weather reports to mitigate their flooding concerns,” Glozzy wrote. “We cannot operate our water supplies based on predictions of rainfall, nor can our water supply dams perform dual function for flood control.

“Artificially reducing its levels would not solve the flooding issues, but would jeopardize the water supply to nearly one million people in Bergen and Hudson counties.”

Glozzy suggested towns pursue taxpayer-funded state and federal programs to pay for condemnations, the purchase of at-risk properties and construction to fortify other homes against floods. But that hardly satisfies residents.

“This is their 5th — yes, 5th event — in five months,” Marin wrote Sunday. “2 major floods, 2 other ‘close calls,’ and right now, they are just waiting to see if this will or not be another flood.

“What else needs to happen before the residents can control the operations of the dam when the integrity of their very own properties, and lives, are at stake?

“So far, the ‘professionals’ are making money at my expense and I have not seen any, none, not a dime or any measurable support from any of them,” Marin wrote. “I have not seem even one of them writing, calling or knocking my door after any of our 4 floods this year.

“We can’t stop until a written and enforced solution is in place satisfying the residents simple right: No more flood[s].”


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