Building Resilience, Watershed by Watershed

2015-10-15 11.14.34

By Bill Roper of Slow Communities. Bill is working with ISC to build the Resilient Vermont Network and with High Meadows Fund to build its Watershed Initiative.

Climate change is part of our new reality – that’s now evident on a daily basis. Just pick up a newspaper and you’re sure to find stories of our changing climate. Here in Vermont, our landscape and weather patterns tell the story too. Our uncharacteristically long and dry summer may actually be the new normal, and when rain finally came – too hard and fast for our parched soils to absorb – we saw the flooding that is becoming commonplace in our watersheds.

Many efforts are underway to mitigate and adapt to climate change and build local resilience (such as the efforts described in our Resilient Vermont progress report), yet few of these efforts have sparked action on the watershed scale – where Vermont’s climate impacts are often most visible and most critical. I’m excited to share with you another approach that is helping Vermont communities collaborate and prepare within watersheds.

In January 2015, the High Meadows Fund (HMF) issued a Request for Proposals to inspire and encourage creative and inclusive watershed-level resilience projects. It sought projects in which multiple municipalities within a watershed would collaborate to improve their watershed’s resilience. HMF has now awarded six grants to watershed collaborations around Vermont, and projects are getting off the ground.

They selected the following creative teams to build resilience, watershed style:

  1. South Lake Watershed (Pawlet, Danby, and Tinmouth)
    Creating 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, attract wider participation in their resilience efforts, and prioritize future actions.
  1. Lamoille River Watershed (Cambridge, Johnson, Wolcott, and the villages of Cambridge, Jeffersonville, and Johnson)
    Developing 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.
  1. Mad River Watershed (Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Warren, and Waitsfield)
    Developing 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.
  1. Mill Brook Watershed (Windsor, West Windsor, and Reading)
    Prioritizing and beginning to implement 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.
  1. Saxtons River Watershed (Windham, Grafton, Rockingham, and Westminster)
    Working with landowners to restore 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.
  1. Upper White River Watershed (Hancock, Rochester, and Stockbridge)
    Conducting resilience tours, with the goal of showcasing local success stories and drawing wider support for resilience planning and action throughout the watershed.

All of these projects include a healthy slice of citizen engagement and aim to spark real change along their rivers, in their towns and among their residents. They offer great examples of proactive, watershed-level work and I’m excited to follow them over the course of the next 18 months. They are helping prepare Vermont for the real impacts that we know are coming, and reducing future damage to our local economies, communities, and environment. Read more about the projects and their activities.

The complexity of climate change requires work at lots of different levels and in many directions. This post touches on some of the adaptation actions here in Vermont. We are interested in other work going on… what are you doing? What would you like to be doing? How would you like to get involved?

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