“The purpose of the study is to get a handle on what the river wants to be like and how the equilibrium of the river can be accommodated while protecting human infrastructure,” said Bennett.
In 2014, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation identified the East Branch of the North River watershed as a top priority in the Deerfield River and Southern Connecticut River Tributaries of Vermont Tactical Basin Plan. This identification was largely due to the devastating flood caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
“These studies have been in the works since the early 2000s,” said Bennett, “but Irene added sympathy (for the project) from the audience. Studies have been done on many streams, brooks, and rivers within the commission’s geographic area, and we were finally able to secure the grant for the North River Corridor Plan.”
Engineers from Fitzgerald Environmental Associates were present to answer questions and provide a slideshow illustrating the four priority projects in Whitingham: removing the too-small cement bridge in front of the municipal center; enlarging the culvert entrance to the municipal center lot, to be replaced with a 16-foot-wide culvert; consider removing a shed attached to the house neighboring the firehouse; widen the river bed; and lower the bank to allow high waters to enter the floodplain instead of rising against the houses. Another study priority item is replacing the undersized culvert under the intersection of routes 100 and 112, which would be done by the Vermont Department of Transportation. Whitingham Road Commissioner Stanley Janovsky was not optimistic this would happen. “The state has said that was not a high priority,” said Janovsky, adding “it’s not always easy getting the state on the same page with the town.”
One final recommendation was to lower a berm (earthen dam) on Brian Sullivan’s land on Gates Pond Road. Sullivan expressed concern that this might negatively impact downstream properties with higher water. Janovsky agreed. “That would leave another house downstream prone to flooding,” he said, “so that won’t happen, but overall I thought it was a pretty good study. The models made good sense and this should help if we ever face another Irene.”
The study itself is a staggering collection of data on geology, watershed compilation, boundary conditions, and all things fluvial (related to rivers), even pebble count collection.
While Irene and the damage it caused were not the impetus for the study, it became a focus. “Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 was a major flood along the East Branch North River and Branch Brook. The village of Jacksonville located along the East Branch experienced significant inundation and erosion damages. Based on flood damages incurred during Tropical Storm Irene and previous floods in the study area, the East Branch North River and Branch Brook watersheds are vulnerable to flooding during prolonged rain storms and flashy thunderstorms.” (Fitzgerald Environmental Associates, LLC)
Flood resilience is now a very hot topic, not only across Vermont but across the entire country. It is likely to remain so in light of climate change and the likelihood of 100-year storms happening more frequently.