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High Meadows Fund Supports Resiliency Projects In Six Watersheds

VPR/Steve Zind
FEMA officials inspect damage to a flooded road in Underhill in May 2013.

How can Vermont's riverside communities better handle the risk of floods? The Vermont Community Foundation's High Meadows Fund believes promoting watershed-wide resiliency, rather than a town-by-town approach, is the key to preparing for high water events.

To that end, The High Meadows Fund has awarded $249,000 to teams of planners from six Vermont watersheds as part of it's new Watershed Resilience Initiative.

"Teams in the six watersheds — Mad River, Lamoille River, Saxtons River, South Lake, Upper White River, and Mill Brook — will work with their communities and through various approaches will develop shared understandings of their watershed’s vulnerabilities, risks, and opportunities; design short- and longer-term solutions; and begin to make progress on implementing those solutions," a High Meadows Fund press release states. "Each watershed team will work together for 18 months and is made up of stakeholders from at least three towns and representatives from the government, nonprofit, and private sectors."

The release noted weather events such as Tropical Storm Irene, multiple 100-year floods and localized “micro-bursts” continue to damage Vermont's farms, businesses, and homes. Flooding events damage property and roads, as well as degrading water quality downstream.

“All the research and patterns we’ve seen demonstrate that these events are no longer an ‘if’ but a ‘when,’” commented High Meadows Fund President Gaye Symington. “Planning ahead can reduce or even eliminate the damage to our physical, economic, and social communities. But erosion and flooding do not follow Vermont’s municipal and regional boundaries. Through this initiative, we seek to encourage communities to work together to change land use in ways that protect people, property, and water quality, not just in their own town, but also upstream and downstream.”

She added: “Building resilience requires creativity, diverse voices, and hard choices. These grants will support an inclusive and transparent process within the watersheds. But most importantly, the fund wants to encourage more towns to take into account the downstream and upstream consequences of how their land use affects Vermont’s waterways.”

The initiative's $249,000 in grants has been divided between the following efforts:

  • A team from the Lamoille River watershed was awarded $62,000 to develop a flood model to help communities understand their risks and prioritize roads and other infrastructure for restoration, conservation or adaptation. In addition, they will provide training to contractors and businesses about ways to reduce risks on their properties without increasing risks downstream. Towns involved: Cambridge, Johnson, Wolcott, and the villages of Cambridge, Jeffersonville and Johnson.
  • A team from the Mad River watershed was awarded $60,000 to develop a watershed-wide storm water management program and an accompanying technical standards manual with the active involvement of planners, engineers, community members, forest and farm landowners and businesses from all five towns. Towns involved: Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Warren and Waitsfield.
  • A team from the Mill Brook watershed was awarded $50,000 to prioritize and begin implementing bank stabilization and floodplain projects recommended by a recent stream assessment of the Mill Brook. The grant will also help them set up workshops at the teacher-training institute located in the American Precision Museum and use their new stream table to demonstrate stream dynamics at local events and civic meetings. Towns involved: Windsor, West Windsor and Reading.
  • A team from the Saxtons River watershed was awarded $32,000 to bring three towns together and work with landowners to restore key damaged riparian sites, review existing floodplain ordinances, investigate opportunities for conservation of floodplain lands, and establish a permanent education center to facilitate public understanding of river dynamics and conservation. Towns involved: Windham, Grafton, Rockingham and Westminster.
  • A team from the South Lake watershed was awarded $30,000 to create a detailed checklist that gives a comprehensive picture of flood readiness in the three towns located in the Flower Brook sub-watershed. The grant will also help them reach out to town planning bodies, farms and residents to fill in gaps in the data, draw wider participation into their resilience efforts and prioritize future actions. Towns involved: Pawlet, Danby and Tinmouth.
  • A team from the Upper White River watershed was awarded $15,000 to conduct resilience tours with the goals of learning about local success stories and drawing wider support for resilience planning and actions from all towns in the watershed. Towns involved: Hancock, Rochester and Stockbridge.
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