The Great Falls of the Housatonic are not usually compared to their larger cousins at Niagara or Victoria Falls. I've visited both of those massive waterfalls and have been awed by their majesty and power. This week, after heavy rains drenched the Northeast, the Housatonic rose in flood and the Falls took on the aspect of a roaring torrent, our own little Niagara.
For many years before the hydro-electric plant upstream went to "run of river' instead of "pond and release", the Great Falls in Falls Village, Connecticut were hardly a trickle. Only in flood were they restored to a semblance of their former glory. The April nor'easter that dumped a month's worth of rain on our region in the space of 36 hours swelled the Housatonic and its tributary steams above flood stage on Monday. My drive to work through Robbin's swamp that day saw water lapping at the edge of Rte 7., so I chose - wisely, it turns out - to head home before noon lest I be cut off. When I reached that low spot in the road not three hours after I first passed, the water was axle deep and surging across the highway. I was one of the last vehicles through before they closed the road.
The next day, the tributary streams had crested and begun to subside. Roads in our area were again above water, but the main stem of the Housatonic was still in rising flood. On my way home from work on Tuesday, regrettably without my camera, I took a detour and dropped down into Falls Village to see how the river was running at the falls. Crossing the low, single-lane iron bridge around the bend from the falls, I felt uncomfortably close to the floodwater, which had swelled beyond its banks and across the parkland on the far shore. Turning up the river once again, I saw mist from the falls rising above the trees, something I had never seen before. The water was roiling, a foaming brown, and what had been islands in the stream were now battered beneath the waves, their trees like the masts of submerged wrecks broken on a reef. When I saw the Falls they were Niagara in miniature, the mist from their plunge swirling up the face of the plunging water. There were the bright yellow dots of raincoats standing by the edge of the falls, like the first brave splash of crocus flowers against the barren earth. Cars had pulled aside by the pathways to the Falls as residents made their pilgrimage to see this great wonder for themselves.
I stood on the rocks where the falls made their most dramatic leap down into the gorge, at the same spot where the photograph above was taken two years previously during another, less dramatic flood event. I felt the bedrock tremble through my shoes. The water coming over the spillway of the upstream dam was a solid sheet of floodwater, and the cataracts below were utterly swallowed by the churning water. The river pushed up the sides of the gorge, spilling over stone and pouring through new cracks and crevasses to force its way downstream. The hydrograph at right shows that the river reached 11 feet - 4 feet above flood stage - during my visit to the falls.
The waters are starting to subside now, though they are still in flood. Communities downstream in Kent, and near the mouth of the river in Fairfield County, endured major flooding and damage to homes and property. The Governor has requested that the entire state be declared a federal disaster area. Up here in the Litchfield Hills, though, the Housatonic floodwater was an awesome display of nature's power, and a marvel to the eye.