Saturday, September 22, 2012

Campbell Creek Flooding Demonstrates Why Title 21 Is So Important

The white line is approximately where the shoreline is normally.   This is one of the first houses as Campbell Creek moves into populated area, so there are no artificial constrictions above stream that would raise the water higher here. 

I'm on the bike trail, the white line is about normal shoreline.

As developers try to push back the set back distance from creeks proposed in the Title 21 provisionally approved, this recent flooding gives a good example of why other cities have much stricter setbacks than Anchorage.

You can see the white line again over by the posts and the sign at the normal shoreline where the creek is supposed to go under the bridge.

And below is Campbell Creek just after crossing under Lake Otis.  It's been constrained by the concrete barriers under the road right here and it has fairly steep banks, so it's kept relatively close within its banks.  But even so you can see the difference between Thursday and Friday. (Note:  We were already at flood levels on Thursday.) The little white lines on each photo show the water line for Friday and the same place on Thursday. The vertical white line in the upper right just shows the distance from the base of the tree to the water.

And most telling of all, the pipe in the lower right is completely covered on Friday. 

And as I continued on the bike trail, I could see that the creek strayed far beyond its normal banks.   At the point in the picture below, there are houses between the trail and the creek. 

I decided to go off the trail and find a relatively dry pathway through the woods on the right.  It had some elevation.  But then I got out of the woods and to the soccer fields at Waldron Park.

In the above picture I'm looking back to where I came out of the woods onto the soccer fields.  There was a long, narrow body of water bordering the fields.  As I went down toward the field from the woods, I knew the ground would be soggy but I was hoping I could jump to the grassy island.  Well, both shoes were soaked by the time I leapt to the little grass patch, which wobbled like a water bed under me.  I think it was floating. 

This is Waldron Lake, on the edge of the soccer fields.  This area was saved this year by a bill in the legislature which bought the property to preserve it as a park.  This year the governor didn't veto the appropriation like he did last year.  As I looked at the lake, it seemed that this big open body of water was better equipped to absorb some of the flooding.   Nah, don't you think they should drain the lake and put in condos?  We need to get tax dollars from this land.  Well, what we get is a natural flooding abatement and water filtration plant that would cost the city hundreds of millions to match if this lake and the creek and the green belt around the creek weren't here.

Then I wandered on down to the Seward Highway and the project begun this summer to raise the four bridges to allow a real bike trail under the highway instead of the dirt and rock obstacle course that's been the way to get past the highway all these years.

This picture shows my bike under the first bridge in August 2008, negotiating the rocks and the dirt.  You can see the second bridge in the background (and then there are two more) and the normal water level.

Here's pretty much that same spot earlier this summer after they closed it off for the construction.  

And here it was Friday morning. (You can click on the picture to get it bigger and clearer. The bottom of the fence is in the water which was about three and a half feet below the bottom of the bridge.  The trail was completely obliterated.  You can compare the water levels to the first of these three pictures. 

If I've understood correctly (it's hard to keep current with the many changes), the builders in town have gotten the Planning and Zoning Commission to shrink the setback from creeks and waterways for new development.  I understand that people want to build on as much land as possible.  But this week's flooding along the creeks shows why those setbacks are necessary.  Are floods like this normal?  Not really. But there has been speculation that the shrinking polar ice cap is having an effect on our weather patterns.  If that's true, this may be the new normal.

This storm and the flooding highlight the problems of having developers be the main lobbyists to roll back the changes on Title 21. (Not counting those who have been to meetings to explain that Title 21 is directly related to UN resolution 21 on global climate change and is an international conspiracy to take over the world.)  They want to make as much money as they can developing land and while I'm sure the vast majority of the developers do not want to have their projects flooded - even after they've collected their money and gone - I am sure that they simply discount the safety, health, and aesthetic goals set into the Title 21 process by citizens panels over the years.  The creek set back is one of the more visible problems with the changes they are proposing.  There are many, many more that will have long term negative effects on Anchorage as a livable city.

The Anchorage Citizens Coalition has a lot more detailed information of what's going on.  They'll need people to contact their Assembly members right away. 

1 comment:

  1. My neighborhood, more or less .. and I did not know that Waldron Lake was saved from development! What a relief. The little lake is a delightful place in so many ways: the views of the mountains, the bird life, the kids and families during soccer season. I was stunned when (I thought it was the mayor) refused to buy it from the owners (Boys and Girls Club / Donated by a generous and thoughtful family, if I remember correctly)



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