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“How Long Can You Tread Water?” Some Minnesotans May be Finding Out

June 19, 2014Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on “How Long Can You Tread Water?” Some Minnesotans May be Finding Out

The question in the headline here comes from an old Bill Cosby routine where God is persuading Noah to build an ark.  Noah, as portrayed by Cosby, demurs, asking “Well, really, how long will this flood last?”  God, also Cosby in his Biggest, Deepest, Most Portentous voice responds “How long can you tread water?”

OK, it was funny 50 years ago.

Thursday, a new record for rainfall was set at MSP airport, just over 3 inches by noon.  Some parts of the state have received half of a normal year’s rainfall in the past week.  Farm fields are getting washed out, and many streets and highways are flooded across the state.

The floods raise challenging questions about the designed capacity of our storm water systems.  Engineers design storm water removal (more about that in a moment) systems to handle storms up to a certain volume, which is typically gauged to historical norms.  In the Twin Cities, I think it’s something like a 1.5 inch rain event.  Much over this, as we have had all week here, means the water has to go somewhere, and we end up with spectacular (and dangerous) floods.

Some would argue that one of the hallmarks of our changing climate is heavier rainstorms, so future storm water systems need to be built for a larger capacity.

Instead, I wonder why we treat water as a problem, to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible.  How can we retrofit parts of our cities so that water stays where it falls, infiltrating and recharging aquifers?  What would be the secondary consequences of such a change, i.e. how would our whole water system begin to look and function differently if we weren’t designing it to be a “water interstate,” mindlessly moving maximum volumes?

While you ponder on that, take a look at some of these urban water photos, picked up from our Twitter stream, which itself was running at pretty maximum volume Thursday.


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