Leaders from Housatonic River communities are banding together to address flooding problems along the river this past year.
Representatives from nine towns and cities along the Housatonic River met with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, and U.S. representatives Rosa DeLauro and Chris Murphy Friday morning at Oxford Town Hall.
They talked about flooding — and what the leaders can do to prevent and respond to issues along the river.
“We’re here because we share the Houstaonic,” Blumenthal said to the leaders. “It’s a wonderfully beautiful resource, but also a source of flooding.”
From the Valley, First Selectman Paul Roy from Seymour, Mayor Anthony Staffieri from Derby and First Selectwoman Mary Ann Drayton-Rogers from Oxford attended the meeting.
Leaders from Bridgewater, Brookfield, Monroe, New Milford, Newtown and Stratford also attended.
The Houstaonic River has had three major floods in 2011.
The worst was in March, when the river crested at 21.68 feet at the Stevenson Dam in Oxford — the fifth highest level ever recorded.
Then, during Hurricane Irene, the levels reached 20.8 feet.
Less than a month later, the river flooded again, after days of rain in the area. On Sept. 8, the water reached 20.04 feet.
“This is not coming every 100 years,” DeLauro said. “This is coming fast and furious.”
The roundtable discussion Friday was organized by Blumenthal’s office. It was his second visit to the Valley since Hurricane Irene.
The meeting allowed local leaders could talk directly to their delegation in Washington, to give a broader picture of the flooding problems throughout the region and get immediate feedback on what town officials can do about it.
DeLauro’s answer: Band together and pressure federal agencies like FEMA and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the water levels near dams.
The three members of congress also suggested reaching out to senators and representatives to urge them to stop fighting about emergency funding for FEMA.
“There’s got to be a serious pressure on the system that says we are in trouble,” DeLauro said. “We need your help. We need you not to be bickering over partisan difference. We need the resources to do it.”
The meeting brought together leaders from towns that don’t necessarily work together on other issues. They are part of three different congressional districts, three different state counties and different regional planning districts.
But they share the waters of the Housatonic regardless.
The Housatonic River stretches from northern Massachusetts down through Connecticut, dumping into Long Island Sound at Stratford.
“We need all these towns to get together because you don’t have a county form of government here,” said Paul Roy, First Selectman in Seymour, after the meeting. “Even our COGs (councils of government) are too small to do it.”
The meeting highlighted the differences seen at different points in the river.
While Derby and Oxford talked about flooding below the Stevenson Dam, Brookfield First Selectman William Davidson said the river in his town is often so low he can walk around his boat.
“They lower it significantly,” Davidson said. “It’s a vast wasteland of mud.”
The river in Brookfield is called Lake Lillinonah. It sits below the Rocky River dam in New Milford, and above the Shepaug Dam in Southbury.
The leaders proposed starting a regional study of the river and the flooding problems. Other solutions floating include changing federal regulations so FirstLight Power can lower the water to levels lower than currently allowed. Mayor Anthony Staffieri also suggested using a lock system near the Derby dam as an overflow water area for flooding times.
DeLauro said she will take the suggestions and ideas back to Washington.