PODCASTEnvironmentally Speaking EP 52: Historic Flooding

September 22, 20220

Transcript: Historic Flooding

CLARICE:  Good morning, everybody.  Good early morning.  It is 7:30 a.m.  So we have an earlier than normal record time today.  My name is – oh, what am I doing.  It’s too early.  Marisa, help me.

MARISA:  Good morning.  I’m Marisa Desautel.  This is Environmentally Speaking.  And you are Clarice.


MARISA:  We are recording early because I’m on the road to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.  I got to get there right when they open at 8:30 to conduct a file review.

CLARICE:  Ooh.  Can you tell us a little bit about what a file review is before we hop into our topic?

MARISA:  I can, but let me preface that by saying file reviews are not our topic today, so if you got real excited hearing me say file review, sorry.  I [inaudible] we have another podcast or video or something that talks about the Access to Public Records Act that we could point you to.  But the brief overview is that if you want to review any public documents that any statement agency maintains including the Department of Environmental Management, you submit something called an APRA request.  A-p-r-a is the acronym and it stands for the Access to Public Records Act.  An APRA request is a form that you fill in and you indicate to the agency which files you’re looking for for purposes of DEM reviews.  You also indicate which program you’re looking for files from.  You submit it to the keeper of records.  Very Game of Thrones title there.  But the keeper of records –

CLARICE:  I love that name.

MARISA:  — then replies to you and you go through this process of narrowing down sometimes what you’re looking for and then you schedule a time to come in and sit down and actually go through the files.  Usually in these cases you’re looking for – as an attorney you’re looking for specific documents because you’ve already identified some kind of risk or liability and you need to know more about it.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  And we do have an episode talking about access to public records and related to the Open Meetings Act.  Lord, I remember APRA requests well.

MARISA:  When you were working with me, yeah.

CLARICE:  Yes.  The office does a lot of them.  But that’s tangentially related to today’s topic.  Today’s topic is a little bit more literally related.  So what are we talking about today?

MARISA:  Yeah.  And I was going to say – good use of the word tangential, by the way.  I was going to say that, you know, we do a podcast every week.  Why in God’s name couldn’t I get my act together and not be in the car.  Well, I’ll give you the answer to that.  Number one, I usually cannot get my act together.  And number two, I wanted to talk about the historic flooding that took place on Route 95 in Rhode Island this past week.  And, I don’t know, I thought it was kind of neat that I’m going to be in that same location and talking about the flooding that occurred a few days ago there.

[0:03:16] CLARICE:  Yeah.  I love it.  I think this flooding was – for those of you who have looked it up already who know about it and seen the pictures, they were really jarring photos.  For those who haven’t yet, definitely look them up.  Take the time to kind of get a sense of what we’re talking about today.  So I thought it was a cool topic.

MARISA:  Can we link any of the photos from the local news outlets in the show notes?

CLARICE:  Yeah.  Absolutely.  We’ll throw some of those photos in for you guys.  Just by a little side note, a little safety note, we are recording camera off, hands free, so we’re still good.  We’re still kind of respecting those spaces.  But tell me more about this flood.

MARISA:  And by hands free let’s just clarify that my hands are on the wheel.  I am actively driving a car.  Hands free means it’s recording through my Bluetooth.

CLARICE:  You don’t yet have the fanciest Tesla.

MARISA:  No, I don’t.  So go ahead.  You were going to provide some background, I think.

CLARICE:  No.  I was going to say tell me about it.  Tell me what happened.  I’m excited to learn.

MARISA:  Well, let me just start by saying I thought it was very interesting that when I approached you, Clarice, with this topic your response was, what flooding.  And you live right over the border in Massachusetts, so I thought that was remarkable that in Rhode Island it was such a big deal, but just over the border you folks didn’t necessarily hear about it.  So here’s what happened.  It’s Rhode Island.  It’s the Summer of 2022.  We have had a very dry summer season.  I think we are – we are lacking something like five inches of rainfall that we would customarily have at this time of year, so everything’s real dry.

There’s been a lot of high fire possibility advisory warnings that go out across the state.  You might get a warning on your phone or through your weather app.  And the Department of Environmental Management, I believe, as well as the federal government issues a few orders this summer saying if you are camping anywhere in the state you cannot build a fire at your campsite.  There’s just too much risk associated with the fire accidentally getting out of control and that would – you know, we’d have a situation like California on our hands with how dry everything is.  It would just create a huge risk.  And, in fact, there were a few major forest fires in Rhode Island this year that luckily they were able to get under control, but I don’t recall ever hearing about that kind of thing previously.

[0:06:19] CLARICE:  No.  I haven’t heard of any major massive wildfires.


CLARICE:  Thankfully everything’s been controllable.  We’ve been very lucky.

MARISA:  On the other hand you’ve got a severe weather event that occurred last week.  We had one of these weather events that occurred last year, but it was later in the year.  It was during the fall.  So     Granted the Thurbers Avenue curve is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s a curve and it banks – if you’re heading south it banks to the right and down.

And it was in that sort of downward depression of the highway that water just flooded in, rushed in and shut down the highway for several hours.  I highly recommend that you take a look at the videos of this particular situation with the people that tried to still go across the flooding.  And I’m not talking about people that have a Hummer or an all-terrain vehicle like a Jeep.  These were folks in Honda Civics.  Nothing against Honda Civics.  I’ve had a lot of them, but I wouldn’t drive it into a pond.

CLARICE:  And that’s kind of what it became.  I mean, for a relatively decent amount of time considering that it’s a highway it became full of standing water.  And this Thurbers Ave  curve is not a low traffic area.  It always amazes me to see folks, like you said, with the smaller compact cars with the sedans, you know, your Corollas, your Civics, things like that, and they just think, well, I got to get to where I’m going.  And they try to drive through it.

MARISA:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Don’t try to drive through a flooded anything ever.


MARISA:  It’s just not a good idea.

CLARICE:  For 1,000 reasons.

MARISA:  You know, for 1,000 reasons, one of them being – so we’re talking about a historic amount of rainfall that somehow made its way to the lowest point in the area because that’s how stormwater flows.  It’s gravity flow.  It goes to the lowest point.  What if it was still actively raining?  And I think it might have been actually, so take the what if out.  It was still actively raining.  What if there was another storm surge and you’re trying to cross in the middle of a flooded area.  Your car is going to stall and then here comes the next surge of water.  You know, it reminds me a lot of those apocalyptic movies like The Day After Tomorrow and –

[0:09:30] CLARICE:  Yeah.

MARISA:  — climate change scary movies.  But geez, I’ve never seen or heard of this area experiencing a flood like that, so we’re not too far off.  I’m not saying the world is going to end tomorrow, but we are seeing storms of greater intensity, duration, and frequency on top of the other severe weather events which was the drought.

CLARICE:  Absolutely.  And to help some folks get a visual, from looking at the photos and going back through it it looks like at its highest point it was about at a sedan’s window.  So picture most of the door of the car being completely submerged.  Looking through it it also – it took – I mean, no surprise there.  It took working all through the night to help kind of clear this up as much as you can.

MARISA:  Yes.   Yes.  I’m glad you just mentioned that.  Sorry to interrupt you, but I would like to give a little shout-out to the Providence Fire Department.  They were working constantly to assist people as well as state police in Providence and Providence police.  But I give the particular shout-out to the fire department because we’ve got a few active listeners from the Messer Street station that are somehow very interested in things like solar power and some other random topics that we talk about.  So if anyone’s listening at Messer Street, thanks for following and thanks for essentially risking your lives every day.  Especially now you’ve got to deal with Thurbers Ave  flooding.

CLARICE:  And if any of you guys have any special topics you want to hear, we would be delighted to cover them for you guys.

MARISA:  True.

CLARICE:  Do you have any idea of how folks can – or how these emergency response folks are coming in and helping relieve the problem?  I know there’s the idea of like hoping to pull people out of cars and making sure people are safe, but is there anything that can be done to all of the actual flooding water?  Is there a way to pump it out, or do we have to just let that ride out?

MARISA:  Yeah.  I immediately – because I’m a weirdo I immediately had this vision in my head of all the emergency responders with buckets forming a line across the highway and just trying to bail out.  No.  There’s no way to pump the water out.  And that touches on an issue that I wanted to talk about with respect to why did this happen.  We get hurricanes.  We get weather events.  Why in God’s name did this water suddenly make its way to this particular spot on 95.

It’s because, number one, the topography.  Like I mentioned, the stormwater is gravity slow.  It’s also right next to the Providence River.   The water always tries to make its way to the next closest down-gradient body of water.  And clearly the stormwater controls in place on this particular stretch of 95 could not handle the amount of flow in the amount of time that it occurred.  So when you’re driving on the highway or on local roads, you’ll see catch basins on the sides.  It’s a metal grate.  Sometimes you’ll see a curb cut which just looks like – it’s where Pennywise the clown pokes his head out from in the Stephen King It.  It’s called a curb cut and that means that stormwater is meant to go there.  It’s meant to cascade down through the curb cut.  It’s meant to cascade down through the metal grate.

There are best management practices associated with these types of conveyances, but for the most part they just collect everything that’s on the street including water, including salt when it’s the winter months, including any trash or discharge from people’s cars.  So it’s not – we’ve talked about stormwater before.  It’s not a perfect design situation.  And with more flooding and storms coming, these issues are going to be exacerbated.

With the stormwater conveyance infrastructure that exists at Thurbers Avenue was not meant to handle this time of flooding situation.  It’s just too much water and everything’s paved.  It’s got nowhere to go.  It’s not going to sink into the soil.  You know, it’s not going to permeate down into the groundwater table and then make its way somewhere else.  It’s just going to sit there because it’s got nowhere to go.  It’s like a tub with a very small drain.

[0:14:42] CLARICE:  Yeah.  Absolutely.  I mean, like you said, it’s not going to soak into the pavement so in high spots it’s going to turn into a slide for the water and in the low parts, like you said, it’s going to become the tub.  Well, it was a wild and interesting bit of news to read about and I am a little embarrassed to say over in Mass it wasn’t – it definitely still made the news.  It was definitely still something that people were reading about.  It was just a huge deal in Rhode Island.  And being on the outskirts, it was cool to hear about secondhand.

MARISA:  Well, and Rhode Island is such a small odd little state that anything like this that happens is a big deal and it was all over social media.  It was all over the news.  We’re talking about it.  I think maybe the size of the state factors into how much attention it got.  But from an environmental perspective, environmentally speaking it’s a shock because we know climate change is happening.  We’ve known about it for a long time, but to actually see it in my lifetime is really upsetting for me.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  It’s scary.  Yeah.  It’s definitely jarring.  But, yeah, Rhode Island – I like how you said Rhode Island is an odd state knowing that we covered on this podcast an episode where we talked about an article about plogging.  So, yeah, Rhode Island is a weird state and that’s what makes it charming.

MARISA:  Agreed.

CLARICE:  So once again, thank you to all the first responders who went out there.  Again, I said it before, seeing that flooding my gut reaction would be to go as far away from it as possible, don’t want to be near it, don’t want to even be on the highway.  So for those folks to say, yeah, this is where we’re going, we have a job to do, it’s really incredible.  So thank you all the folks who went out and helped make sure everybody was safe.  That’s a really important job to say the least.  Also, that being said, if anybody has any topics, requests, if you guys have any comments about this – were you near there?  Do you live in the area?  Did it ruin your commute?  Tell us about it.  I want to know more.  You can reach us on all of the social channels.

MARISA:  Yeah.  I do, too.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  That will be some firsthand stories.  If your firsthand story is you drove your Civic head-on into the pool, I definitely want to hear from you.  I really, really want to hear from you.  But, yeah, you can hit us up on all of the social medias at DesautelESQ.  You could also reach out to us by e-mail at Help@DesautelESQ.  I haven’t said this in a while, but like, subscribe, and share.  It keeps our podcast running.  It lets other folks know we exit and it expands our pool of topics.  So thank you, guys.  You have a great rest of your week.

MARISA:  Thanks, everybody.

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