Marshall Ora Leighton.

The Passaic flood of 1903 online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryMarshall Ora LeightonThe Passaic flood of 1903 → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Chuck Greif, Mark C. Orton, Linda McKeown and
the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
http://www.pgdp.net









Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper No. 92
Series M, General Hydrographic Investigations, 8

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
CHARLES D. WALCOTT, DIRECTOR

THE PASSAIC FLOOD OF 1903

BY

MARSHALL ORA LEIGHTON

[Illustration]

WASHINGTON
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
1904




CONTENTS.


Page.
Letter of transmittal 7

Introduction 9

Precipitation 11

Descent of flood 14
Highland tributaries and Central Basin 14
Flood at Macopin dam 15
Flood at Beattie's dam, Little Falls 16
Flood flow over Dundee dam 17

Damages 23
General statements 23
Highland tributaries 23
Ramapo River 23
Pequanac and Wanaque rivers 24
Central Basin 25
Lower Valley 25
Paterson 26
Passaic and vicinity 27

Preventive measures 28
General discussion 28
Lower valley improvements 29
Flood catchment 31
Pompton reservoir 31
Ramapo system 33
Wanaque system 34
Midvale reservoir 34
Ringwood reservoir 35
West Brook reservoir 35
Pequanac system 35
Newfoundland reservoir 36
Stickle Pond reservoir 36
Rockaway system 37
Powerville reservoir 37
Longwood Valley reservoir 37
Splitrock Pond 38
Upper Passaic Basin 38
Millington reservoir 38
Saddle River 39
Summary of flood-catchments projects 40
Preferable reservoir sites 40

General conclusions 44

Index 47




ILLUSTRATIONS.


Page.
PLATE I. _A_, Beattie's dam, Little Falls, N. J., in flood; _B_,
Flood-water lines in residence district, Paterson, N. J. 16

II. _A_, Pompton Lakes dam and water front of Ludlum Steel and Iron
Company; _B_, Dry bed of Pompton Lake 24

III. Flood district of Paterson, N. J. 24

IV. _A_, Washout at Spruce street, Paterson, N. J.; _B_,
River street, Paterson, N. J., after flood 26

V. _A_, Effects of flood in mill district, Paterson, N. J.; _B_,
The wreck of a hotel in Paterson, N. J. 26

VI. _A_, Devastation in Hebrew quarter, Paterson, N. J.; _B_,
A common example of flood damage 28

VII. _A_, Inundated lands at Passaic, N. J.; _B_, Undamaged bridge
across Passaic River after partial subsidence of flood 28

FIG. 1. Comparative flood run-off at Dundee dam, March, 1902, and
October, 1903 18

2. Diagram of flood flow at Dundee dam, flood of 1903 20




LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL.

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
UNITED STATES GEOLOGICAL SURVEY,
HYDROGRAPHIC BRANCH,

_Washington, D. C., December 4, 1903._


SIR: I have the honor to transmit herewith a manuscript entitled,
"Passaic Flood of 1903," prepared by Marshall Ora Leighton, and to
request that it be published as one of the series of Water-Supply and
Irrigation Papers.

This paper is a continuation of Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper No.
88, by George B. Hollister and Mr. Leighton, and describes the flood of
October, 1903, which was higher and far more disastrous than the flood
of 1902. The occurrence of two great floods in the same basin during so
short a period makes the subject worthy of attention, especially as the
district is, from a manufacturing and commercial standpoint, one of the
most important along the Atlantic coast.

Very respectfully,

F. H. NEWELL,
_Chief Engineer_.

HON. CHARLES D. WALCOTT
_Director United States Geological Survey_.




THE PASSAIC FLOOD OF 1903.

By MARSHALL O. LEIGHTON.


INTRODUCTION.

In the following pages is given a brief history of the disastrous flood
which occurred in the Passaic River Basin in October, 1903. In the
report by George Buell Hollister and the writer, entitled "The Passaic
Flood of 1902," and published by the United States Geological Survey as
Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper No. 88, are discussed the principal
physiographic features of the drainage basin and their general relations
to the stream flow. This report will not repeat this information, and
the discussion will be confined to the flood itself. References to local
features will be made without explanation, the presumption being that
this publication shall accompany the earlier one and be, as it is, a
continuation of it. In the present report more attention is given to an
estimate of damages than in the earlier work, and remedies by which
devastation may be avoided are briefly considered.

Passaic River overflowed its banks on October 8, 1903, and remained in
flood until October 19. Between these dates there occurred the greatest
and most destructive flood ever known along this stream. Ordinarily the
channel of the lower Passaic at full bank carries about 12,000 cubic
feet of water per second, but at the height of this flood it carried
about 35,700 cubic feet per second.

The flood period for the entire stream can not be exactly stated, as the
overflow did not occur at the same time in different parts of the basin.
For example, the gage-height records at Dundee dam show that the flood
began to rise on October 8 at 6.30 a. m., and reached a maximum of 9-1/2
inches over the dam crest at 9 p. m. on October 10. Similarly, on
Beattie's dam at Little Falls the flood began to rise at midnight on
October 7, and reached its maximum at 2 p. m. on October 10, or about
thirty-eight hours after the initial rise, the height of the water being
1.29 inches over the crest of the dam.

The flood rose on the highland tributaries as follows: On Ramapo River
the flood crest passed Hillborn at about 10 a. m. on October 9 and
reached Pompton, at the mouth of the river, shortly after noon of the
same day.

The highest reading recorded on the Geological Survey gage at the feeder
of Morris Canal, in Pompton Plains, was 14.3 feet, at about 6 o'clock on
the morning of October 10. As this gage is read only once daily it is
probable that this reading does not represent the height of the flood
crest. Evidence shows that it passed this point on the previous day.
Records of the Newark water department show that the flood on Pequanac
River began to rise at Macopin dam on October 8 at noon, and rose
rapidly to the maximum of 6,000 cubic feet per second at 4 p. m. on
October 10.

No records are available with reference to the rise of flood on Wanaque
River.

Observations made on Pompton Plains on the morning of the 11th show that
Pompton River was well within its banks at that time; therefore the
Ramapo, Wanaque, and Pequanac must have discharged their flood waters
some time previous to this hour. The fact is important when considered
in connection with the height of water in the main stream at that
period. This observation was made only eighteen hours after the maximum
height over Beattie's dam at Little Falls, and twelve hours after the
flood crest passed Dundee dam. The conditions here outlined illustrate
the rapidity with which flood waters are discharged from the Pompton
drainage area, and the deterring effect of Great Piece Meadows upon the
flood.

The rise of the flood on Rockaway River at Old Boonton was almost
coincident with that on Pequanac River at Macopin dam. The maximum flow
occurred fourteen hours later than the maximum on the Ramapo at Pompton.

The flood crest did not reach Chatham on upper Passaic River until the
morning of October 11, or about twenty-four hours later than the flood
heights in Pompton and Rockaway rivers, and about twelve hours later
than the maximum over Dundee dam.

Adequate reasons for these differences in flood periods between
neighboring points are abundant. They are apparent after a review of the
physiographic conditions described in Water-Supply Paper No. 88.

The flood of 1903 was the immediate result of an enormous rainfall, and
not, as is often the case in north temperate latitudes, the combined
effect of rainfall and the rapid melting of accumulated snows. The
records of weather-observation stations in northern New Jersey and New
York fail to show, throughout their entire observation periods, as great
an amount of precipitation in so short a period. The storm which was the
immediate cause of the flood occurred principally between October 8 and
11. During that interval rain fell to an average depth of 11.74 inches
over the Passaic Basin.

The Passaic Basin is fairly well supplied with storage facilities,
which, under ordinary circumstances, would temper the severity of floods
by holding back a large amount of water. In this case no such effect was
produced, as the reservoirs, lakes, and ponds on the drainage area were
filled, or practically so, at the beginning of the storm, and there was
consequently no available space in which to hold back even an
appreciable part of the run-off water. Over some of the dams in the
highland region a comparatively small amount of water was being
discharged at the beginning of the storm. Therefore, while these storage
basins may have had a certain deterring effect upon the rate of flood
accumulation, they could not, in the end, assist materially in
preventing damages in the lower part of the drainage area.


PRECIPITATION.

The precipitation records for June, July, August, and September are
given below:

_Precipitation, in inches, in Passaic Valley and vicinity, June to
September, 1903._

- - - - - - - - -+ - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - + - - - - - -
| June. | July. | August. | September.
- - - - - - - - -+ - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - + - - - - - -
|Normal. |Normal. |Normal. |Normal.
| Observed.| Observed.| Observed.| Observed.
- - - - - - - - -+ - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - + - - - - - -
Highland region: | | | | | | | |
Dover | 3.29 | 15.02 | 5.54 | 5.47 | 5.08 | 9.04 | 4.02 | 3.39
Chester | 3.48 | 12.80 | 6.42 | 7.59 | 5.16 | 9.35 | 4.60 | ...
Charlotteburg | 3.52 | 9.45 | 5.54 | 3.97 | 4.98 | 7.78 | 4.80 | 3.29
Ringwood | ... | 10.13 | ... | 3.08 | ... | 6.17 | ... | 3.06
Red Sandstone | | | | | | | |
plain: | | | | | | | |
Paterson | 4.31 | 11.17 | 5.32 | 5.40 | 4.31 | 10.89 | 4.86 | 2.88
Hanover | 3.32 | ... | 5.23 | 5.40 | 5.20 | 9.40 | 4.52 | ...
River Vale | 3.17 | 10.62 | 4.87 | 3.41 | 4.17 | ... | 3.61 | 2.90
Essex Fells | 3.08 | ... | 7.03 | ... | 5.95 | ... | 3.67 | 1.80
Newark | 3.60 | 11.51 | 4.48 | 4.27 | 4.75 | 14.54 | 3.83 | 4.56
South Orange | 3.57 | 9.28 | 5.43 | 4.22 | 5.05 | 13.75 | 4.04 | 3.80
New York City | 3.13 | 7.42 | 4.26 | 3.23 | 4.70 | 5.96 | 3.72 | 2.60
Plainfield | 3.62 | 10.14 | 5.86 | 4.70 | 4.37 | 6.87 | 4.42 | 7.10
Elizabeth | 3.68 | 8.76 | 5.74 | 4.31 | 4.26 | 7.15 | 4.14 | 4.38
- - - - - - - - -+ - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - + - - - | - - - -+ - - - + - - -

An examination of the above table shows that throughout the summer of
1903 the precipitation was considerably above normal. The records for
June and August indicate extremely wet months, and the July figures are
slightly above while the September figures are somewhat below normal.
The important fact shown by this table is that disastrous floods may
occur after long periods of abundant rains. It has been observed that
heavy precipitation may be expected after protracted periods of drought.
Such a belief is not altogether fanciful. In the northeastern part of
this country the total amount of precipitation is approximately uniform
from year to year. The variations, comparatively speaking, are not very
wide, and we are therefore led to expect that there are in operation
influences which serve to compensate for excesses or deficiencies in our
annual rainfall. Therefore after the abundant precipitation of the
summer of 1903, an observer might have had some measure of justification
in predicting a normally or abnormally dry fall. In view of the actual
events the fact must be emphasized that in adopting measures to prevent
floods the margin of safety must be extremely wide. The extraordinary
rainfall of those three October days can not with assurance be accepted
as the maximum.

_Precipitation, in inches, in Passaic Valley and vicinity, October 7 to
11, 1903._

- - - - - - - - - - -+ - - - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - - - + - - - -
| From - | To - |
Station. + - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - + - - - - - -+ Amount.
| Day. | Hour. | Day. | Hour. |
- - - - - - - - - - -+ - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - -
Highland region: | | | | |
Dover | 7 | | 11 | 9 p.m. | 10.13
Little Falls | 7 | 4 a.m. | 11 | 7 a.m. | 14.13
Charlotteburg | 7 | | 10 | | 12.67
Ringwood | 8 | 11 a.m. | 9 | 8 p.m. | 10.63
| | | | |
Red Sandstone plain: | | | | |
Paterson | 7 | 5 a.m. | 9 | 3.45 p.m. | 15.04
River Vale | 8 | 8 a.m. | 11 | 6 p.m. | 12.55
Essex Fells | 8 | | 9 | 4 p.m. | 10.66
Newark | 8 | 8.30 a.m. | 11 | 5 a.m. | 12.09
South Orange | 8 | 6 a.m. | 10 | Night | 10.48
- - - - - - - - - - -+ - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - + - - - - - -+ - - - -

The extremely rapid rate of precipitation during the crucial part of the
storm is shown by the recording gages placed at observation stations in
Newark and New York City.

_Hourly records of precipitation at New York observation station,
October 8 and 9, 1903_.

Inches.

Oct. 8, 9 to 10 a. m. 0.08
10 to 11 a. m. .02
11 to 12 m. .32
12 m. to 1 p. m. .10
1 to 2 p. m. .05
2 to 3 p. m. .06
3 to 4 p. m. .34
4 to 5 p. m. .01
5 to 6 p. m. .10
6 to 7 p. m. .02
7 to 8 p. m. .93
8 to 9 p. m. .32
9 to 10 p. m. .24
10 to 11 p. m. .27
11 to 12 p. m. .26
9, 12 to 1 a. m. .30
Oct. 9, 1 to 2 a. m. 0.25
2 to 3 a. m. .75
3 to 4 a. m. .34
4 to 5 a. m. .46
5 to 6 a. m. .41
6 to 7 a. m. .29
7 to 8 a. m. .51
8 to 9 a. m. 1.38
9 to 10 a. m. 1.04
10 to 11 a. m. .08
11 to 12 m. .23
12 m. to 1 p. m. .24
1 to 2 p. m. .31
2 to 3 p. m. .32
3 to 4 p. m. .01
_____
Total 6.92

_Hourly record of precipitation at Newark observation station, October
8-11, 1903_.

Inches.

Oct. 8, 8.25 to 9 a. m. 0.05
9 to 10 a. m. .04
10 to 11 a. m. .00
11 to 12 m. .00
12 m. to 1 p. m. .14
1 to 2 p. m. .72
2 to 3 p. m. .49
3 to 4 p. m. .11
4 to 5 p. m. 1.05
5 to 6 p. m. .45
6 to 7 p. m. 1.20
7 to 8 p. m. .60
8 to 9 p. m. .24
9 to 10 p. m. .24
10 to 11 p. m. .13
11 to 12 p. m. .17
9, 12 to 1 a. m. .29
1 to 2 a. m. .33
2 to 3 a. m. .62
3 to 4 a. m. .29
4 to 5 a. m. .35
5 to 6 a. m. .26
6 to 7 a. m. .13
Oct. 9, 7 to 8 a. m. 0.29
8 to 9 a. m. .69
9 to 10 a. m. .69
10 to 11 a. m. .39
11 to 12m. .20
12m. to 1 p. m. .39
1 to 2 p. m. .28
2 to 3 p. m. .34
3 to 3.25 p. m. .13
11.50 to 11.55 p. m. .01
10, 3 to 4 a. m. .02
7 to 8 p. m. .07
8 to 9 p. m. .09
9 to 10 p. m. .02
10 to 11 p. m. .04
11 to 12 p. m. .04
11, 12 to 1 a. m. .06
1 to 2 a. m. .09
2 to 3 a. m. .03
3 to 4 a. m. .05
4 to 5 a. m. .01
_____
Total 11.83

From the above tables it may be seen that the maximum rate of
precipitation per hour was 1.38 inches at New York and 1.2 inches at
Newark. Comparison of the tables on pages 11 and 12 gives an excellent
idea of the intensity of the storm. The amount of water falling in a
single storm is nearly equal to the total for June, a month of unusual
precipitation.

The average of the total amounts of precipitation recorded at the
various stations in the Passaic area is 11.74 inches. These totals are
fairly uniform, none of them varying widely from the average. Therefore
the figure 11.74 represents a conservative mean for a calculation of
total amount of water over the drainage area. Assuming this as the
correct depth, the amount of water which fell on each square mile of the
Passaic drainage area during the storm was 27,273,000 cubic feet, or for
the whole Passaic drainage area over 27,000,000,000 cubic feet, weighing
about 852,000,000 tons. This amount of water would, if properly stored,
fill a lake with twenty times the capacity of Greenwood Lake, would
cover Central Park in New York City, which has an area of about 1.5
square miles, to a height of 645 feet, and, at the present rate of water
consumption in the city of Newark, N. J., would supply the city with
water for twenty years.


DESCENT OF FLOOD.

HIGHLAND TRIBUTARIES AND CENTRAL BASIN.

A description of the descent of flood waters from the highland
tributaries into the Central Basin has been given in Water-Supply Paper
No. 88. It has been shown that the lands of the Central Basin are
covered even in ordinary freshets, and that in the event of a great
flood the waters merely rise higher, being, for the greater extent,
almost quiescent, and beyond the flooding of houses and barns and the
destruction of crops, little damage is done. In other words, the flood
along this portion is not torrential in character.

During the flood of 1903 the water fell so quickly all over this basin,
and was collected so rapidly by the small tributaries, that a lake was
formed at once which served as a cushion against which the raging
torrent of the highland tributaries spent itself without doing
extraordinary damage in that immediate region. Bridges which might have
been lost in a smaller flood like that of 1902 were actually standing in
slack water by the time the mountain torrents appeared in force. These
streams caused much destruction higher up in the mountains, but in the
Central Basin their energy became potential - a gathering of forces to be
loosed upon the lower valley. A discussion of the effects of this will
be taken up under the heading "Damages."

In Water-Supply Paper No. 88 is given the proportion of flood waters
contributed to the Central Basin by each of the tributaries. These
figures were computed from the results of gagings maintained for a
period sufficient to afford this information within a reasonable
approximation. In the case of the storm which resulted in the flood of
1903 it is probable that data referred to can not be safely applied.

The flood of 1902 was the result of abundant rains following upon and
melting a heavy snow. Weather Bureau records show that neither the depth
of the snow nor the amount of subsequent rainfall was uniform, or even
approximately so, over the Passaic drainage area. Indeed, so marked was
the variation that it was believed that the mean rainfall for all the
observation stations on the basin did not bear sufficient relation to
observed run-off to allow of any reliable deductions. In the case of the
October storm, however, the distribution of rainfall was more nearly
uniform, and the run-off from the highland tributaries into the Central
Basin must have been proportionately different in amount from that
indicated in the upland tributary tables in the report of the previous
flood. The data given for the 1902 flood can not, therefore, in the case
of the highland tributaries, be applied to the conditions which obtained
in the flood of 1903.


FLOOD AT MACOPIN DAM.

Mr. Morris R. Sherrerd, engineer of the Newark city water board, has
furnished flow computations over Macopin intake dam, which is the head
of the Newark pipe line. As about 73 per cent of the Pequanac drainage
area lies above this intake, the table on page 16 shows roughly an
equivalent percentage of the flow contributed by Pequanac River to the
Central Basin of the Passaic. In consulting this table it should be
borne in mind that the entire run-off of the drainage area above Macopin
is about 25,000,000 gallons per day more than the amounts presented in
this table. All reservoirs and ponds connected with the conservancy
system of the Newark water supply were filled except that at Oakridge,
which was about 1.5 feet below the crest of the spillway.

_Flow of Pequanac River over Macopin dam, October 7-24, 1903._

[From Newark water department.]

Cubic feet.
Oct. 8, 6 a. m. to 12 m. 240,600
12m. to 4 p. m. 347,600
4 to 6 p. m. 842,200

8-9, 6 p. m. to 6 a. m. 40,110,000

9, 6 a. m. to 12 m. 51,870,000
12m. to 1 p. m. 15,100,000
1 to 5 p. m. 62,430,000
5 to 10 p. m. 89,040,000
10 to 11 p. m. 19,520,000


1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryMarshall Ora LeightonThe Passaic flood of 1903 → online text (page 1 of 6)