The end of August will mark the fifth anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene. Some Rutland County communities are observing the occasion with a series of events focusing on flood resiliency.
When Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont nearly five years ago, it left a wake of devastation. Lives were lost, homes and businesses were destroyed and entire communities were isolated. In Pawlet village, historic homes flooded when the Flower Brook jumped its banks, swollen from water rushing down from Tinmouth and Danby.
While many damaged buildings have been repaired or removed, conservationists and planners say there’s still work to be done to the brook and its watershed. Hilary Solomon manages the Poultney Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District. She says trees and gravel that washed into the brook during Irene have created water quality issues and increased the risk for future flooding.
“The whole headwaters of Flower Brook, all of the holes that were fish habitat and also helped hold some of the water during flood events or just helped provide capacity, were filled in with gravel," says Solomon. "So we just have a huge amount of sediment and gravel moving through this watershed right now ... So we’re in, basically, an unstable headwater area. And all of this material goes down and it ends up in Pawlet.”
The conservation district is collaborating with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and others in the South Lake Partnership to spend the month leading up to the Irene Anniversary addressing some of the factors contributing to the watershed’s problems. They’re focusing on small fixes homeowners can make on their own properties. And if enough people make small improvements, organizers say it could make a big difference for the watershed.
Money for the effort came from the High Meadows Fund, which has given grants to watershed alliance projects around Vermont.
The first event is a workshop happening Saturday, July 30 in Danby. Solomon explains that the goal is to teach residents along the brook how to keep their driveways from washing into the water.
“Just showing them that everybody can participate and everybody can manage the runoff from their driveway in a way that doesn’t contribute to a water quality problem downstream," she explains. "Most people probably don’t realize that what they do on their driveway in Danby affects Pawlet.”
The next event is Wednesday, Aug. 2 in Tinmouth. Solomon says it’s a workshop to teach homeowners about rain gardens and other ways to naturally manage stormwater.
“If every home owner could infiltrate some or all of the runoff from their roof, from their driveway right on their own property instead of sending it to the brook, that would be really helpful," she says.
On Saturday, Aug. 13, Solomon will be leading a hike along the Flower Brook, from Danby to Pawlet. She’ll be pointing out changes to the watershed from weather and land use.
Then on Sunday, Aug. 28 – the eve of the fifth anniversary Tropical Storm Irene – residents of Tinmouth, Danby and Pawlet will get together for a community celebration called “Five Years Vermont Strong.”
Elysa Smigielski has been working on the watershed events for the Rutland Regional Planning Commission. She says it makes sense to bring the residents of the three towns together, for the good of their common watershed.
Smigielski explains, “Watersheds go across boundaries. They don’t care that Danby and Pawlet have a political boundry.”
Smigielski says the Irene anniversary event will have live music, food and children’s activities. But there will also be an emphasis on what the community has accomplished for its watershed since Irene, and what it has yet to do.
“This is a way to keep it in everyone’s mind that we still have work to do, but also to highlight the work that has already been done," she says. "So we’ll highlight both – the successes thus far and then also where we go from here to make sure we help these towns protect themselves a little bit better.”
The Five Years Vermont Strong celebration will take place on Edie’s Green, in Pawlet, on Sunday, Aug. 28 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., and will be followed by a guided hike along the Flower Brook.