Concord preparing for flash floods and other natural disasters now and in the future

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 07-11-2023 10:01 AM

The four main rivers running through Concord and the surrounding towns put the area at a higher risk for flash flooding in the event of heavy rains and downpours. 

“Flooding is a primary hazard in New Hampshire,” said Senior Planner Stephanie Alexander of the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission.

Citing significant flooding in Concord between 2006 and 2008, Alexander said part of the city’s hazard mitigation plan includes the anticipation of severe flooding that has and will continue to impact city infrastructure. The plan needs to be updated every five years to remain eligible for federal grant funding in the face of natural disasters or state emergencies.

It was last updated in 2017 and looks at natural hazards and severe weather events and their potential impact on the community.

“The funding would be used to help the city to do a large project if there was a culvert that needed to be replaced and was flooded out; we could use one of the grants to apply for funding,” Alexander said. “There were a lot of severe infrastructure breaks and a lot of the money was used to correct a lot of that infrastructure that we didn’t know needed to be repaired until we had these significant floods.”

Because flooding is the primary natural hazard in the state, the city of Concord often sees flash floods along the Merrimack River, the Turkey River, the Contoocook River and the Soucook River, all of which run along main roadways and interstates, Alexander said.

“Another purpose of the plan is to develop a list of mitigation actions that the city can undertake to make themselves safer from all of the hazards that we look at within the next five years,” she continued.

Some of those mitigation actions include public education and outreach for disaster protection, upgrading stormwater infrastructure and supporting the work of other committees and stakeholders to make the city safer from weather events.

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On Monday, Alexander alongside city department heads, staff and stakeholders met to discuss the potential of natural disasters occurring in Concord and how bad it could get. Once completed, the plan with be submitted to Homeland Security and Emergency Management for review and later to FEMA for final feedback and approval.

As part of the assessment, the group discussed the risk severity of several weather events and natural disasters in the city of Concord over the next 10 years, including dam failures, inland flooding and river hazards, all of which were given high ratings of probability.

In the city, the Penacook Lake Dam and the Turkey Pond Dam are considered high hazards, Alexander explained. If either of the dams broke, they could cause serious injury or death and impact the city’s communication center or fire headquarters.

The anticipation of severe weather events and how to measure them has grown more complex.

“I think the scales should be reviewed soon since they’re being broken regularly,” Michael O’Meara, director of programming and information technology for ConcordTV. “We could reach that today in some parts of New Hampshire and we had flash flooding on Storrs Street a week ago.”

The group has convened 16 times since April 2022 to finalize the city’s hazard mitigation plan. They will meet again on July 17 at noon via Zoom to continue their discussion with the hope of submitting the final plans to the Division of Homeland Security by the end of next week.

More immediately, state officials are urging residents to prepare for potential flooding over the next few days with the recent amount of rain that could cause the rivers to overflow, submerging low-lying areas and flooding roadways.

To prepare for flash floods, residents should pay attention to local forecasts, establish an emergency plan, identify high ground and avoid roadways prone to flooding, said Robert Buxton, the director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

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