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The Otter Creek's Role In Vermont's History And Environmental Health

A river at sunset
Jay Parker
Settlement in a large area of Vermont was shaped by the Otter Creek.

The Otter Creek is the longest river contained within Vermont's borders.  It's shaped where Vermonters live, how they farm, and how the basic infrastructure and political divisions of the state are set up. And now, it's a big part of the state's phosphorus pollution problem.

The Addison Independent is running a three-part series on the Otter Creek, covering one of Vermont's most important waterways.

The author of the articles, Emma Cotton, says that the pattern of settlement and agriculture in the state was shaped by the waterway.

"The Otter Creek has been used as a major passage into Vermont and Addison County for centuries now," she said. "It was inhabited actually by Paleo-Indians thousands of years ago, and Native Americans after that. But, the first colonists to inhabit Addison County after the Revolutionary War did so largely because of the Otter Creek. They set up saw and grist mills on the Middlebury Falls, for example... Addison and Rutland County's largest cities — Rutland, Middlebury, Vergennes — are built on the creek’s banks specifically for the purpose."

And that long association with agriculture, Cotton says, means that the Otter Creek plays a significant role in Vermont's phosphorus pollution problem.

“The total maximum daily load, which is a document that was published in 2016 that sets pollution limits for Lake Champlain, it goes through and breaks the watersheds of Lake Champlain into subwatersheds, and then further into sectors," Cotton said. "So you can see that the Otter Creek is broken up into agriculture, into waste water, into developed land. And agriculture in the Otter Creek is actually the largest contributor of phosphorus to Lake Champlain, period."

For more on the Otter Creek, you can check out Cotton's full series.

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