News Releases

October 03, 2011

The Work We Do In Our Rivers Today Will Leave A Lasting Legacy

Rivers run through our history and folklore, and link us as a people. They nourish and refresh us and provide a home for dazzling varieties of fish and wildlife and trees and plants of every sort. We are a nation rich in rivers. — Charles Kuralt

In Vermont we love our rivers, lakes and streams. They are the centerpieces of our communities, an important source of clean water and an essential economic driver as people come from all over the world to fish, paddle and swim. The recent floods have not just damaged our homes, businesses, and infrastructure; the flooding made catastrophic changes to many of our streams, and rivers.

Across Vermont, communities have been devastated by the flood, and they have a real need to protect vulnerable areas before the winter snows fall. But this work can and must be done in a way that does not cause more significant damage in the future, and that will minimize the ecological impacts to the banks and beds of our rivers and streams.

Getting this balance right – with 2,000 locations with flooding impacted rivers and streams -- is challenging, and responding to this statewide emergency has clearly strained the finite resources of the Agency of Natural Resources Rivers Program. The first phase of our disaster response primarily involved emergency river work that was necessary to allow Vermonters to get back to their homes and businesses. Starting this week staff will begin the shift from an exclusive focus on emergency response to working with municipalities, businesses and homeowners to maximize the long- term effectiveness of our state’s flood recovery work. We will be moving from oral authorizations to written documentation to ensure that work is done in conformity with the rules. This is also necessary to ensure FEMA reimbursement. Work that is unrelated to the flood disaster will still need to go through the formal permit process.

We can only protect our communities if we learn from our past mistakes. The damage from Irene is at least partially the legacy of flood control approaches taken in the 30's, 50's, and 70’s. We know more now than we did then. We know that we must limit the amount of channel straightening, berming, over-widening and deepening to the bare minimum necessary to protect existing homes and businesses; we must design and size road ditches, bridges and culverts correctly and push roads and infrastructure as far back from the stream and river banks as we can, And finally, we need to minimize how much we build in our river corridors and floodplains.

Work in Vermont's streams and rivers must be done knowing that doing the work incorrectly is just money down the hole. It may well cost more in the long run to simply rebuild in the same place, using the same methods! We also know from experience that digging deeper channels and constructing more bank stabilization is an expensive and uncertain way to contain a river or stream. While this may done to protect particular homes and businesses it can easily result in shifting the problem from one stretch of a stream to another area downstream.

This is easy to say but much harder to achieve in practice. There are times when digging out a channel and armoring the banks of a stream or river are simply necessary to protect our towns and villages, and our most important roads and bridges. Going forward, we must work to account for the costs and impacts of doing so.

Over the coming days, weeks and months we look forward to engaging Vermonters in a conversation about how we can rebuild Vermont to be stronger and more resilient to the next round of flooding.

Source: Agency of Natural Resources
Last Updated at: October 03, 2011 14:07:28