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N.H. Parks Inundated By Waters Due To Heavy Rain

Elm Brook Park in Central New Hampshire looked like a scene from a dystopian novel this week, with picnic tables and a playground partially submerged by floodwaters. The high water levels due to heavy rain have closed both Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton and Clough State Park in Weare.

Both parks are part of the Hopkinton Everett Flood Risk Management program. Run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Hopkinton and Everett Dams were built to protect cities and towns downstream from flood waters.

When water levels rise, the dams open to let water pool in the shared storage area where the parks are located.

Stephen Dermody, project manager for the program, said he usually sees this level of flood waters at least once a year but not in early summer months.

hopkinton dam
Samantha Coetzee
The Hopkinton Dam was completed in 1963.

“Typically [we’re] used to more flooding in the springtime,” Dermody said. “We have snow melt and warming temperatures and rain, or we can see a flood event in the fall from remnants of a hurricane coming up to the East Coast. But usually this is our more quiet time for our flood control.”

The Northeast is receiving more precipitation, in larger, more concentrated amounts, due to the warming temperatures of climate change. Scientists say it heightens the risk of floods on the coast and inland.

Dermody said the last time the Corps saw an event like this was in 2011 with Hurricane Irene.

Everett dam
Samantha Coetzee
The Everett Dam was completed in 1962.

This time, he said, they’re unsure when they will be able to reopen the parks.

“We have to release the water in a regimented way -- we can't just open it wide open and get rid of it as fast as we can,” he said. “We do it slowly so we don't cause any downstream erosion or impact any habitats.”

The water is released by manually opening the gates on the dams, allowing it to flow downstream. This process is regulated by the Reservoir Control Center, which keeps real time data of water levels in the dams and rivers.

The National Weather Service says it's likely this will be the wettest July on record in much of New England. Recent rains have eased the state's drought but caused flooding in other areas around the state.