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If you’ve been reading this blog you should know by now that I have deep insatiable desire for numbers, math, coding, engineering, making colorful interactive maps, David Letterman top ten lists and Seinfeld episodes. I also really enjoy reading great non-fiction history and biographical writing. Writings that peel off the external layers of the onion and perform deep examinations of great human beings and achievements. Writings that examine why things are the way they are. “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

BTW, I know what you are thinking, and no this is not a picture of me, nor is it a close approximation:

“I caught you a delicious bass.”

This past week on February 5 I attended a community flooding meeting in McCandless hosted by the McCandless Environmental Advisory Committee and the Northland Public Library in partnership with with Girty’s Run Watershed Association and the Allegheny County Conservation District.

The meeting was packed. Over 100 people were there, every seat was filled in a standing room crowd.

During the audience Q&A portion, a local farmer in attendance made the following comment that I immediately jotted down into my phone:

“Stormwater management in our region is a failure and has been going back to the 1970s. Problem is the over development and mismanagement of water resulting from the development. We got problems and we need corrections.”

He was right on the money, direct bulls eye with everything he said, of course.

But his comment touches upon something deeper. That present day flooding problems have been a long time in the making. We didn’t get to where we are overnight or even in the past ten years. We humans have been stewing the pot on a low slow simmer for decades, centuries even, when it comes to increasing our flooding risk. Like a nice Sunday sauce that your sweet Italian Grandma Florentina makes after returning home from Sunday morning mass.

If you’re not of Italian descent or Catholic just pretend, OK. I need you to cooperate and participate in this metaphor.

What a belt, kid.

The tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers have been crushed, chopped and diced into a nice sauce. Veal, pork ribs, meatballs have been added. Everything has been on a low simmer for a couple hours releasing all of that succulent meat flavoring and artery clogging fat into the sauce. So good.

This is where things take a turn.

Mistakingly, Grandma Flo with her slight onset dementia has now set the gas range on full blast high thinking she was searing last nights steaks.

Oh no, Grandma Flo has now slipped and taken a fall from a rogue tomato peel and is lying incapacitated on the floor! She’s trying to muster whatever last strength she has left to push the button on her necklace but the Life Alert service guy is asleep on the job. Meanwhile you’re in the backyard running around playing with the dog and climbing trees like the carefree kid that you are.

Now that delicious Sunday sauce is beginning to flood the pot and making a mess splattering all over Grandma’s retro 70’s kitchen wallpaper and linoleum floors and countertops. 

But how did the sauce go from a low simmer with such a brilliant red color to a big giant mess with Grandma Flo lying dead on the floor?

Just to be clear the Sunday sauce on the stove is the metaphor for flooding. You all get it right? And Grandma Flo is all of us. Or are we the oversized giant belt kid in the backyard oblivious of the whole situation, I forget. Maybe we are both? It doesn’t really matter.

But Granny Flo ain’t dead yet! I think I heard a slight groan. The Life Alert guy has woken up from his hangover: “Don’t worry. The ambulance is on its way, mam.”

I want to talk about how we got here, lying incapacitated on the kitchen floor, in a future series of blog posts. I’m going to try to paint the history of modern flooding and why it seems to be worse than ever before. Why the pot has gone from a low gentle simmer to a raging boil.

It seems as though climate change and increasing rains has gotten most of the attention in the press lately, which is certainly playing a role in the flooding. But to me there are several other reasons that go much deeper than the increasing rainfall we’ve been experiencing. To me, the story begins all the way back to the founding of the early colonies and the United States when the first settlers from Europe set foot on this continent.

It’s long story that I’m going to try to write over the next few months so I’m going to break it up into parts. I’m going to try to peel back the layers of the onion, chop it up, and simmer it with some garlic and olive oil for Grandma Flo’s sauce.

Part 1 will cover the European settlement of North America and the mass harvesting of trees.

Part 2 will cover the history of railroads, industry and coal mining.

Part 3 will cover the invention of the automobile and post war suburban expansion.

Part 4 will cover modern day environmentalism, climate change, and changing rainfall patterns.

In my opinion, all of these issues play a role in modern day flooding in the Pittsburgh region and why things are the way they are today. It’s a story that we all need to understand so that we can maybe develop a future remedy.

The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see. Those that are ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat it. You’ve got to know where you’ve been in order to know where you’re going. History and context is important.

Just a fair warning, it might be a little while before I can get to do all of these parts. I have a rough outline in my head how each of them is going to go. I do this blog all for fun on the side when I’m not doing my “real job.”

I’m hoping by the end of the year I will have covered all the parts.

So stay with me! Life Alert is here, you’re on the stretcher and on the way to the hospital Granny Flo! Subscribe on the front page!

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