By the end of the year, the borough's ability to predict the severity and impact of future floods should be markedly improved.
After years of being passed over for funding, Fair Lawn learned recently that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved its most recent request for grant money to install flood gauges on both the Saddle and Passaic rivers. The borough expects the gauges to be in place at both rivers by the end of the year.
"We’re excited about it," said borough manager Tom Metzler, who credited emergency management coordinator Ira Marks for fighting to obtain the funding. "It’s not going to prevent the flooding, but it is certainly going to give residents advanced notice and much more detail in terms of timelines with regard to how much flooding we can anticipate."
Due to the inherent predictive limitations, Marks said it wasn't until just before Hurricane Irene hit last year that he realized the extent of damage it would cause.
At that point, however, he had no time to set up the proper command structure. As a result, Marks and his team were forced to go door-to-door in the middle of the night to warn residents in at-risk areas.
"If I knew the storm was going to be that bad I would have done it differently," he said. "But the predictions weren’t there and that’s why I’ve been trying to get a flood gauge for both rivers."
Once the new gauges are installed, the borough's reliance on educated water level estimates will be a thing of the past. The Passaic and Saddle river gauges will not only give the borough better predictive ability in advance of storms, they'll also provide up-to-the-minute reports on current water levels as flood situations develop.
"It’s going to be dead on," Metzler said of the readings, which are conveyed via satellite signal. "We’re going to know exactly what the level of the river is. And that is significant."
Metzler said once the borough sniffs out a possible flood it'll notify residents far in advance so they can make a decision whether to remain on their premises or evacuate.
For residents who wish to keep tabs on water levels themselves, the gauges will also be linked to the borough's website.
Marks said he would be working with the engineering department to determine the precise levels at which individual streets around town flood so that data could also be available on the website for residents.
Once installed, the borough will pay a couple thousand dollars annually to maintain the gauge's satellite signal, Metzler said.