What a summer it’s been! In some ways, I’m not sure I can call it summer since there hasn’t been much heat until recently. Yet, the abundance of green, of growth, of critters is definitely saying summer. The number of mushrooms, kinds I don’t recall seeing before, is amazing.

The amount of rain has also been something to remember!

My little valley outside of Montpelier got over 7 inches of rain in 48 hours during the July flood event. Local culverts washed out, unable to handle the loads. A few beaver dams breached as well. The town is working to repair damages and build resilience as best they can. It means that ditches are being dug out, new larger culvert pipes are going in, and there are even new culverts being added to reduce the load on existing drainage. It’s hard to see all the bare ground along the road now, knowing that every time it rains more silt is moving downstream toward the Winooski. That river has been running turbid ever since the flood.

flooded area at sunset

High water in the floodplain. Photo: R. Heijmerikx on Unsplash.com.


All of this is painful for a long-time phosphorus reduction proponent like me to witness. The amount of sediment (and so much other stuff) that has gone into our lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams as a result of the flood is mind-boggling. It’s hard not to think about what it means for downstream water bodies and feel sad at the progress we’ve lost.

Yet, all I need to do is walk in the woods above my house to see that the local woods have weathered this extreme event pretty darn well. Water clearly was moving everywhere, but the hefty duff layer, downed wood, and local stone slowed it down and spread it out. We have fairly steep slopes behind the house and lots of exposed ledge. Healthy mature trees dispersed the rain drops and anchored the shallow soil. Duff, leaves, and twigs formed small dams. Existing intermittent streams were been scoured out, but most of the area has very little disturbance despite the fact that so much water was flowing downhill. The areas where water damage is obvious are frequently used game trails and the old logging roads that were already rutted.

It also appears that infrastructure changes made after Hurricane Irene to improve flood resiliency around the state made a difference. All of this gives me hope that our efforts at water quality management are not in vain. Shorelines and flat areas along waterways, especially on valley floors, will inevitably flood – it’s part of their job really. It’s an important job, especially when we get the kind of rainfall that we’ve had this summer. So, we need to think carefully about what we do going forward, whether it be rebuilding or rewilding, in our floodplains.

Adapting for more water in the future

Preventing property damage and loss while allowing rivers to overflow into their floodplains during extreme rainfall events will not be easy. Towns and people living near waterways can’t just pick up and move. Mud slides happened during the July storm, so folks living on hillsides away from waterways, like me, may be vulnerable in the future. All of us need to consider how we will modify and adapt to more rainfall. Now is the time to walk around your property and look at how water moves. Consider that flow path during a major flood event – what might get washed away? Have you got decent tree coverage to help protect and anchor soil? For those of you with buildings near the shoreline, rising water levels may be an issue. How will you adapt?

My heart is heavy every time I drive along the Winooski into Montpelier. The flood was devastating for so many people and ravaged so much land. Yet, there are many areas of river bank, wetlands and open grassland that were covered with water and now recovering quickly. Major floods have always been a part of the natural world. Rivers roam across their flood plains, ponds fill in, new ones form. That resilience and adaptability is food for thought. We can find better ways of living with waterways and water bodies. We can help those living in floodplains large and small recover with a wetter future in mind. Change is coming our way as our climate warms and we need to adapt to the ‘new normal’.

River in flood.

A river and its floodplain. Photo by N. Babashova on Unsplash.com.