Harry E. Kitch '71
"All human activity comes with tradeoffs, and we must make them explicit for decision making when considering human development near floodplains and coasts.”
Engineer - Controlling nature's wrath
"All human activity comes with tradeoffs, and we must make them explicit for decision making when considering human development near floodplains and coasts,” says Harry E. Kitch ’71.
And he should know. As Deputy, Planning Community of Practice and Leader, Flood Damage Reduction Business Line for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kitch has experienced firsthand his fair share of natural aquatic disasters. He’s dealt with both extremes, including the 1988 Mississippi River drought and the Great Midwest Flood of 1993.
As the federal governmental sector that looks to reduce damages in areas most affected, the Corps often finds itself in a difficult position. “It’s a delicate balancing act,” Kitch says, “because there are always competing needs.”
Nothing illustrated this more than Hurricane Katrina. Like others in his profession, Kitch feared that a hurricane the magnitude of Katrina would devastate the New Orleans region. “All of us in the water resources profession have been worried about such a large metropolitan area that is essentially below sea level,” he explains. “We knew that the level of protection was not absolute, but many people believed it was. You have to consider multiple levels of defense against flooding and prevent future unwise growth
from taking place.”
With a B.S. and M.S. in civil engineering from Bucknell University, Kitch began his professional career as a hydraulic engineer with the Corps. Because he had concentrated in hydrology and hydraulics while at Bucknell, initial assignments dealt with many flood issues. Shortly thereafter, Tropical Storm Agnes pounded the East Coast, and Kitch spent the next several years working on flood studies, primarily in the Susquehanna Basin. His work there led directly to a Lock Haven project, which included a levee and wall that protect the city.
Kitch quickly credits Bucknell for providing him with the experience and expertise needed to succeed in such a demanding profession. “I received a great technical background at Bucknell, and having my master’s degree allowed me to start right off with very challenging assignments,” he says. “I learned to think critically and to ask lots of questions. My time at Bucknell, especially the College of Engineering, taught me the value of networking and of professional friendships.”
Even though Kitch’s classroom education has served him well, it was a non-academic event that impacted him the most. “I met my wife of 37 years, Valerie [Winchester ’70] at Bucknell at the freshman mixer,” he says proudly.