Easton is located in between two major rivers, and one smaller creek. The Delaware River, which is the larger of the two rivers, and the Lehigh River, which is one of the Delaware’s largest tributaries. The Bushkill creek also runs through Easton. These three rivers, combined with the low elevation of Easton, leaves part of the city directly in a flood plain. When society develops on a river, it often assumes the risk of flood damage, and unfortunately Easton has suffered extensive flood damage in its history.
Normal River Height: Approximately 6 Feet Easton Flood Stage: 22 Feet
List of Floods In Easton
Flood of 1903
The first major flood that caused damage to the developed city of Easton was in 1903. On October 10th, 1903, the water level in Easton hit 38.10 feet, the second highest in Easton’s history. The normal stage of the Delaware River is around 6 feet, and the flood stage is set to 22 feet. The flood stage is the level that is considered potentially damaging to the surrounding community. Flood stages are determined by man-made structures, and so are only determined for places on the river where a community exists. As a result in the huge increase of the water level, nine wooden bridges that linked Pennsylvania and New Jersey were destroyed (Blackwell, J). As you can see on the chart above, the next major flood came in 1936, but the flood of 1955 brought the most destruction to Easton.
The above image is the of the Milford-Upper Black Eddy bridge, which was located 15 miles down river of easton, and destroyed during this flood. It was one of 8 wooden covered bridges destroyed in the flood of 1903. Source
Flood of 1955
In this massive flood ninety-nine people were killed and there was over one billion dollars worth of damages.
The Hotel Easton on Northampton Street during Flood Diane in 1955. Source
During the flood of 1955, the water level reached 43.70 feet, which was by far the highest level that ever hit Easton. Mary Shafer gives a detailed account of the flood in her book Devastation on the Delaware. The flood was caused by Hurricane Donnie, and Hurricane Diane which both hit the area within less than a week. This massive amount of rain caused the water level to rise to a record 43.7 feet. Footage from the flood can be seen below. The video describes how all of the debris that floated down the river lodged itself above and below the Free Bridge. The storm first took out the Portland Colombia covered bridge, and massive chunks of it continued to float down the river, towards the free bridge. When pieces of the covered bridge hit the Free Bridge, the middle of the bridge gave out, and was destroyed. This was considered the worst flood in the history of Easton, and is constantly referenced each time a new flood hits Easton (Shafer, M).
Flood of 1996
Spring Garden Street and Larry Holmes Drive underwater during the flood of 1996. Source
Floods in 2004, 2005, and 2006
Three years in a row, Easton was hit with major floods. In 2004 the water level reached 33.35 feet. In 2005, the water level hit 37.20 feet, the highest of the three. In 2006 the water level almost reached that mark again, hitting 37.09 feet. These three floods were the third, fourth and fifth biggest floods in Easton’s history, based on the water levels. It is very rare to have three major flood events, in three consecutive years. Mary Shafer believes that this is a result of the increased development. She believes that the increased development restricts places where water can be absorbed into the ground, and this puts Easton at an even greater risk.
Flood of 2004
Downtown Easton partially underwater during the flood of 2004. Source
Flood of 2006
A street in Easton during the flood of 2006. Source
Floods of 2011
In 2011, there were two more minor floods. On March 3rd, 2011, the water level rose to 26.12 feet. On august 29th, Hurricane Irene caused water levels to reach 25.15 feet. Both of these floods were minor, but we cannot ignore the fact that there seems to be more floods in recent history.
Flooding at the Lafayette Art Center
With the seemingly increased number of floods in Easton in recent history, the new Lafayette College Art Center may be in danger of flooding. The Arts campus lies directly over the Bushkill creek. As you can see on the maps below, most of the art center is located directly in the 100-year flood plain. The 100-year flood plain is the area where the water level is predicted to rise once in 100 years. But with the increased flooding recently, college officials need to be very careful with future decisions, because the 100-year flood plain may have expanded, putting the Art Center at an even greater risk. Increased development could alter the water flow even more, and put the arts campus in even more danger. A huge amount of capital has been invested in the new buildings, and this whole investment comes with a huge risk.
The two images below compare how the Lafayette Arts campus is built directly in the 100 year flood plain. More information about the problems this may cause can be found in the Arts Campus flow section, and the looking ahead section. Source