In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene devastated Vermont, causing $153 million in damage. Homes were washed away and bridges and roads were decimated.
Looking to the future, climate change is predicted to bring more intense storms to the Northeast and in response, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is working to make its land more flood-resilient. The agency is pursuing several projects to restore rivers across the state, including a preliminary engineering design for floodplain restoration in Camel’s Hump State Park near the outlet of Preston Brook.
“Floodplains are some of the most dynamic and diverse areas on our planet. By restoring our floodplains, we will become more resilient to extreme weather events,” said Rebecca Pfeiffer, the Northwest Floodplain Manager for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
“Floodplains are the pressure-relief valve for our river systems. When a brook or stream is able to spill out onto its undeveloped floodplain, floodwaters slow down, many nutrients and debris are stored on the floodplain rather than traveling downstream and contributing to poor water quality, and we see less erosion or potential for damage to public roads and infrastructure, or to private homes and businesses,” Pfeiffer said.
The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation has hired Milone & MacBroom Inc. to complete the initial engineering design for Preston Brook. The brook drains 6 square miles of forest known as “Honey Hollow,” including parts of Camel’s Hump State Park.
Like many streams in the region, this one is dynamic and changes course often within the floodplain. After the flood of 1927, parts of the brook were confined with manmade berms, a practice that was common in the past and intended to confine floodwaters to the stream channel and prevent erosion of the surrounding land.
While this offered some protection to adjacent land, it limited the area of the floodplain, reducing wildlife habitat and affecting water quality. The preliminary plan would remove the berms and restore these portions of the brook to their natural state.
Forest roads in the Preston Brook watershed were improved last fall to improve the brook’s condition in the upper portions of the watershed. The floodplain restoration work could improve the brook near its confluence with the Winooski River.
“We’ll be looking at the preliminary design, weighing the cost and benefits of implementation, and decide where to go from there,” said Jason Nerenberg, state stewardship forester. “Floodplain restoration is an important aspect of meeting clean water goals and enhancing habitat.”
Funding for both projects comes through the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Ecosystem Restoration Program.