On the Anniversary of Tropcial Storm Irene:
Stories of What Went Right
Over the last year, Vermonters have come together to rebuild, to cope and to understand the devastation and loss of life caused by the state’s worst natural disaster in more than 80 years. “These films take a look at individual and community-wide decisions that anticipate floods and protect the environment at the same time,” said David Deen, River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council.
These two examples, and dozens more around Vermont, show where careful decisions about how to build and where to protect natural spots that prevent flood damage can save money, protect the environment and help keep Vermonters from harm.
It’s a lesson the state is in a good position to take advantage of, and an important one given what is now known about the increasing risk of flooding in a changing climate.
The Connecticut River Watershed Council and The Conservation Law Foundation have joined together to look at why Otter Creek in Rutland leapt up as Irene Struck, increasing in flow by nearly 20 times in the space of a little more than a day, while downstream in Middlebury the river rose much more gradually, and more safely. The film is narrated by Gov. Howard Dean.
“The acres and acres of swamps, wetlands and flood plains stand ready to absorb the water from Otter Creek each spring, and they stood ready after Irene. We don’t often think of that kind of natural flood protection in terms of how much money it saves, but it does,” said Louis Porter, Lake Champlain Lakekeeper for the Conservation Law Foundation.
Would the stone bridge in Middlebury have been severely damaged in the flood otherwise? It is impossible to say for sure, but what is clear is that instead of gathering more water as it rushed downstream in the hours and days after Irene, the river lost force and volume instead.
Caption: The organizations also looked at the decision to install larger culverts, including near the headwaters of the West River high in the Green Mountain National Forest. One such culvert, on Jenny Coolidge Brook, still stood after Tropical Storm Irene, while others near it failed, preventing a costly replacement and preventing erosion and other flood damage.
In the second piece, CRWC, CLF and HMF took a close look a culvert near the headwaters of the West River high in the Green Mountain National Forest. That single culvert on Jenny Coolidge Brook, replaced as part of a decision by the National Park Service to install larger such structures, has an important tale to tell. As other structures nearby were wiped out, the Jenny Coolidge culvert remained standing, not only saving money because it did not have to be replaced, but preventing erosion and other flood damage and danger as well.
“The Forest Service thought ahead by replacing an undersized culvert with an open bottomed properly sized culvert. The culvert handily withstood the high flows from Irene. The films take a look at individual and community wide decisions that anticipate floods and protect the environment at the same time,” said David Deen, River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council.
CRWC Takes Action When Things Don’t Go Right
Unfortunately, there are many stories of things that didn’t go right in response to Tropical Storm Irene. One example, the straightening and dredging of five miles of the Chickley River in Hawley, MA went way beyond what was necessary to repair and protect roads, bridges and private property. In mid-November 2011, CRWC sent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) documenting the damage of post-flood work on the Chickley River and calling on DEP to increase its oversight. Later that month, DEP ordered the contractor to cease and desist its work and to repair the environmental damage it caused. On May 17, 2012 the CRWC, representing a group of citizens, was given legal standing as an intervenor group after E.T.&L. Corporation appealed DEP's enforcement order for damage to the Chickley River in Hawley. We have fought hard for this seat and have been actively participating in negotiations to restore the river. Read more.
For more about Irene's damage to rivers and streams, read Ted Williams recent article in FlyRod+Reel Online: "Due to an ancient superstition, trout streams all across the Northeast are being sacrificed."
CLF and CRWC would like to thank those who helped in the creation of these films, including Gov. Howard Dean, the High Meadows Fund, Riverbank Media, Lighthawk, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont Natural Resources Council, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, Douglas Perkins, LPCTV, PEGTV and the Windham Regional Commission.
Photo credits (above): Greg Russ, White River Partnership
Image Credits at Right - Illustrations: Bill Singleton; Photos: ©Al Braden www.albradenphoto.com, CRWC Staff.