Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student David Fagan makes this connection here…

The new entitled, “Tropical Storm Lee’s Lasting Impact: Tiny Pennsylvania Town Recovers Faster Than Its Residents” was reported by The Patriot-News on the website pennlive.com. This was reported on September 14th, 2012 and relates to the WRE area of hydrology in the issues of flood waters, weather systems, and to an extent water quality. Briefly, this article summarizes what happened to the small town of Athens, Pennsylvania during the September flooding of 2011 and how the area is recovering due to hydraulic fracturing, a topic heavily linked to water resources engineering that usually has negative images associated to it. In September of 2011, Hurricane Irene dumped 3 inches of rain on the town of Athens and surrounding areas. Only a week later, Tropic Storm Lee passed over the area and created a weather phenomenon called Training, where storms build off of one another and create huge amounts of rainfall over a small area. This training brought an additional 10-12 inches of rain to the area and caused the Susquehanna River to overflow the banks on the Eastern side of the town and blow a 125-foot hole in the levees of the Western side of the town.


Figure 1 – Rainfall totals for 9/5/11 – 9/9/11 show how the training effect brought large amounts of rainfall to a stretch of land the includes Athens, PA.

Based upon my engineering education, this article seems to do a decent job at providing accurate, general WRE facts. The story touches on issues such as flooding, concert barriers, and levees. It however, leaves out important details that are brought up in Water Resources Engineering (Wurb and James 2002) and the Service Assessment by the National Weather Service (Brown 2012). The article did not go into detail about the workings of the tropical system and how the special set-up of the storm system allowed for enormous amounts of rainfall to impact the area (Figure 1). The article also left out important information about what kind of monitoring of the levees or repairs to the levees had been done in the past. It says that the banks and levees had worked up until now, but it leaves out information about some flooding in the 1970’s.


Figure 2 – Diagram of the Athens, PA area detailing the location of the rivers and how the flooding occurred.

Water resources engineering is a field that has implications across the globe. The hydrology issues of flooding and weather systems in this new story impact the broader areas of society and economics. This flooding caused significant damage to the town of Athens, PA. This article relates that flooding impacts society and economics and that through the somewhat controversial method of hydraulic fracturing, some of the economic impacts of the flooding can be improved. By studying this event, we can further examine how weather patterns and systems affect flooding. In the years to come events like this may become more frequent due to climate change and a failing infrastructure. I have found that the relationship between the WRE issue of flooding and infrastructure/society has also been reported by Flesher and Cain (2013). They report that in the United States alone, the Army Corps. Of Engineers has found that after looking over only 40% of the levees they have found that 326 levees are in need of urgent repair. The 2,000 miles that these 326 levees cover could fail and cause economic and social impacts similar to what happened in Athens, PA. The cause and effect between weather, flooding, infrastructure, and society is as follows – the increased severe storm systems will bring flooding rains to rivers and streams which will cause the levees, banks, spillways, etc. to fail and flood human occupied areas, and the flood waters will sweep away or damage property and potentially injure or kill humans. A side area to this is the topic of hydraulic fracturing and the production of natural gas which can provide an economic boost to relieve some of the monetary problems the flooding may cause.


Brown, Mickey. May 2012. Service Assessment. “Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee and the Susquehanna River Basin Flooding of September 6-10, 2011.” National Weather Service, NOAA.

Flesher, John, and Cain Burdeau. “U.S. levee system survey finds many at failing.” Star-Telegram. Star Telgram, 17 Jan 2013. Web. 15 Feb 2013. <http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/01

Wurbs, R.A., James, W.P., 2002. Water Resources Engineering. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.