When I was relatively new to reporting, I worked in a small town that was undergoing unprecedented development.
For more than 40 years, working class folks from surrounding towns had built basic summer cottages along a small river that flowed through town and emptied into a man-made lake that provided electricity for much of the region.
Many had decided to live in those cottages full-time, adding heating systems or creating additions closer to the very benign river that flowed by them with basements, bedrooms, kitchens and storage.
About the same time, a developer was building a large active adult community a mile upstream on what had been a chicken farm owned first by a famous entertainer and then by a university. With the concurrence of state and local officials, the developer made some changes to the riverbed to accommodate an 18-hole golf course. The officials were convinced that none of the work would be a problem, since the course of the river itself would be unchanged.
In less than a year, the benign river began overflowing regularly, but especially during the snow melt of the late winter. The floodwaters first began washing away first the contents of the cottages, and then the little buildings themselves.
Evacuations were regular; insurance companies began canceling the few policies that had been written even though they didn't cover flood damage anyway and soon what was left became a seasonal community again.
When I asked the state department in charge of such matters about the cause of this flooding, a hydrologist told me that bodies of water tend to go through stages, and the little river, which had been more of a babbling brook for the last few decades, appeared to be in one in which floods would be more frequent.
Despite official denials that the upstream changes had contributed to the increased frequency of flooding, the hydrologist acknowledged that it couldn't be proven or disproven.
His final word: You build close to a river, and you take your chances, whether it was a golf course or a house.
We like living by water, whether it is an ocean, a lake or a river. We often pay premium prices for water frontage. Rental agents can charge top dollar for a place on the beach, while two or three blocks in, the asking prices are about half.
None of these investments comes with a guarantee. A little additional water provided, for example, by the coastal storm that struck the Middle Atlantic and the Northeast earlier this week can wipe out dreams in a few hours.
For many of those whose houses were heavily damaged by flooding this week, it was not the first time. Many said they had just finished cleaning up from flooding 18 months before.
As with the California homeowners whose houses are perpetually turned to ash by wildfires, they weren't ready to pack up and move on. In both cases, the houses are probably their largest investment, and they're going to have to stick with it because no buyer is going to rush to the front door any time soon.
Then again, how many state-mandated disclosure forms would include the line "subject to regular flooding", or how many listing agents would tout "and might be destroyed by wildfires" on the brochure?
The risk of living next to a body of water is obvious and should be considered when buying or building. Where the risk isn't obvious is on drier ground, where there is no watercourse within several miles of the house.
That seems to be more of an issue at times such as this. If you live in a house in an area where the water table is high, you either forgo a basement or build a whole series of safeguards into the cellar to keep it and whatever you are storing there dry.
Five inches fell in my neighborhood over the weekend, and my basement remained dry, even as my electric bill zoomed as the sump pump worked every 30 seconds and the dehumidifier kept the air relatively moisture-free.
The reason: A system of perimeter and french drains cut into the floor that draws all the moisture into a sump pit and out. It probably cost the previous owners $20,000, and having had to replace the aged pump during a similar storm a few years ago taught me a valuable lesson: Never think you have the upper hand.
In my neighborhood, we all know that we are fighting a defensive battle against moisture intrusion.
Well, almost all of us. A developer tore down a small house at the end of the street and replaced it over the last six months with a $750,000 McMansion. The developer liked it enough to move his family into it a few days before the five-inch rainstorm. The day after the storm, there was an oversized pipe lying on the driveway, spewing gallons of water into the storm drain.