Sunday, July 13, 2008

Understanding Nature

Is a massive flood in Ann Arbor's future?

Trains were flooded with so much water that they were lifted off the tracks. People traveled down Huron Street by canoe. One area dam was washed out.

Those stories from the flood of 1968 in Ann Arbor still resonate with longtime residents. Still, the flood wasn't of the historic proportions that recently washed out areas of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

Could rains bring a flood of those proportions to Ann Arbor?

"This is sort of like, 'Will I win the lottery?'" said Washtenaw County Drain Commissioner Janis Bobrin. "I have no idea. I bet they thought they wouldn't see it in Iowa."

Matt Naud, the city of Ann Arbor's environmental coordinator, said it's just a matter of time.

"There is no doubt it will happen," Naud said. "The only question is, 'When?'"

Ms. Bobrin has the wrong game in mind. Floods are random like poker hands, not like lotteries. When the planners talk about 10-year floods, 100-year floods, or 500-year floods, they're speaking exactly the same language as the people who teach the odds on poker hands. The only question is how often will it happen?

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