Mad River Towns Are Models For National Flood Planning

Jul 8, 2014

The lessons of Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont have been incorporated into a new report designed to assist communities across the nation. 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency says the report offers a more comprehensive approach to mitigating the effects of flooding.

The title of a new EPA report, Planning for Flood Recovery and Long Term Resilience in Vermont may appear to have a very narrow focus, but Joel Beauvais of the agency’s Office of Policy says it has broader applications.

“We're looking forward to sharing the lessons that these communities have learned and the state of Vermont has learned with the rest of the country,” he says.

The report makes it clear the solution to mitigating the impact of flooding is to manage streams and rivers to accommodate their movement and get development out of their way as much as possible.

It was developed after the state requested federal assistance in flood planning following Irene. 

A grant paid for a team of national experts to study the Mad River watershed and look at local planning in Waitsfield and Moretown.  

"We're looking forward to sharing the lessons that these communities have learned and the state of Vermont has learned with the rest of the country." - Joel Beauvais of the EPA

Beauvais says the report and an accompanying Flood Resiliency Checklist represent a more systematic approach than in the past. He says they’ll help towns coordinate different building codes, land use plans and zoning regulations to focus on flood mitigation.

Joshua Schwartz, Executive Director of the Mad River Valley Planning District, says the report and checklist help communities understand the big picture.

“Many times when we look at flooding we think of the village or home or river that was flooded. Flooded doesn’t start there, it starts upstream, so a lot of the approach of this project was understanding the role that the watershed and storm water management have in flooding,” he says.

Schwartz says in response to flooding concerns Mad River Valley communities have created new zoning based on the understanding that streams and rivers move over time.

Commissioner Noelle MacKay of the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development says each Vermont community is taking its own approach to resiliency. 

She says the checklist offers a roadmap that towns can follow as they see fit.

“Ask yourself, for example, ‘We’ve got these hazard mitigation plans: Are they integrated with our comprehensive town plan, are they integrated with our infrastructure and are we making sure that they’re tied together and consistent?' That would be a great place to start,” says MacKay.

The EPA says as the climate changes parts of the country, including the Northeast, will see bigger storms. 

Vermont, says Beauvais, can be a model for an more comprehensive approach to dealing with flooding.

“You’ve got a set of very active, educated, forward looking communities and a state government that’s really engaged and interested in taking a comprehensive approach to this issue,” he says. “We really see Vermont and these communities as helping to develop something  that others can learn from and that really is new."