By Rebecca Sanborn Stone, Resilient Vermont Network Coordinator and Principal at Community Workshop LLC
As Hurricane Joaquin bears down on the East Coast, a group of Vermont resilience leaders are sitting in a second-floor conference room in Montpelier. We’ve brought this group together to discuss buyouts of flood-prone properties – specifically how Vermont can protect important stretches of stream banks and improve floodplain function, or buy out properties with the most vulnerable structures and greatest potential for damage. We’re watching rain pelt the windows and fuel the Winooski River, which rises steadily up toward the buildings along its shore. (No, the irony is not lost on us.)
The group is one of four that the Resilient Vermont Network is convening this fall to discuss critical opportunities or gaps in Vermont’s resilience work, and to explore the potential for collaborative projects. We brought together a core group this spring to imagine what the Network should be and how it could help, and action projects rose to the top of the list. Specifically, they identified areas that could benefit from collaboration: ideas that are not likely to progress without a collective effort, and existing efforts that could move faster or reach further if more organizations get behind them.
The group honed in on four specific areas. In addition to buyouts, we are exploring river corridor protections across the state, the resilience of vulnerable populations, and economic resilience (specifically, how to maximize the impact of the Vermont Economic Resilience Initiative / VERI).
We’re also adopting an unusual approach to action. Often, complex challenges spawn complicated solutions – multi-year strategic plans, formal working groups, long timeframes, and lots of meetings. That can feel overwhelming and slow. These days, many networks and collaborations are using more agile approaches, based in concepts of collective impact and design thinking. Rather than setting specific targets and writing long-term plans to get there, we’re looking to align around a general direction and find quick actions that get us moving on the right path.
Specifically, we’re looking for projects and steps that a group can complete in 90 days. Then we’ll come back together, evaluate progress, and start again. Group membership is fluid, with people participating as it makes sense. And groups are themselves fluid – they can form when collaboration is needed and dissolve when it isn’t. (Check out the Vermont Farm to School Network, which inspired our approach.)
Three groups held first meetings in September, with very different results. (The fourth group, on economic resilience and the VERI project, will likely meet in October.) Here’s a snapshot.
Where will we be in 90 days? In five years? Time will tell, but we promise to keep you posted. If you’re interested in joining us for the ride and getting involved with a group, please get in touch.
By Jenna Whitson, Vermont Council on Rural Development
Area businesses and nonprofits are increasingly involved with climate change – both its challenges and opportunities. Their creative solutions are becoming a growing part of our state’s economy, and our resilient future. You can hear more about these solutions, and share your own at the Climate Change Economy Forums coming this fall.
For 10 years now, Washington Electric Co-op has been generating power from the stuff that Vermonters throw away. Their system channels methane gas from deep within the Coventry landfill to fuel engines that produce enough electricity to power 8,000 houses a day. While this was a sizeable investment, the benefits are tangible. Co-op General Manager Patricia Richards explains, “The Coventry plan is a tremendous success story and a perfect example of how we can produce electricity in a sustainable and responsible way…at a very affordable price.”
Other businesses, like Butternut Mountain Farm in Morrisville, have focused on increasing efficiency and waste reduction to cut costs and improve sustainability. Butternut Mountain Farm cut back to a four-day workweek for production staff, reducing transportation emissions, energy and time associated with an additional day of production. They have also worked with Black Dirt Farm in Greensboro to divert more than 68,400 lbs. of compostable materials from the landfill for use on a local Vermont farm.
Whether it’s improving efficiency, looking at alternative energy choices, building community solar projects, or developing new innovative technology solutions, Vermont businesses have a real opportunity to lead in cultivating and supporting this growing economic sector.
To take a deeper look, the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) launched the Vermont Climate Change Economy Initiative with the premise that confronting climate change through innovative economic development can be a competitive strategy – one that will build national reputation, create jobs, and attract youth and entrepreneurism.
In February 2015, VCRD hosted a summit to launch the initiative. We founded the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, a group that will develop a practical action plan to reduce carbon emissions and stimulate green economic development in Vermont.
VCRD and the VT Climate Change Economy Council are hosting three Climate Change Economy Forums, entitled What’s Next for Vermont’s Climate Change Economy? The events are an opportunity to hear from people already adapting and growing businesses that lower Vermont’s carbon impact and to gather ideas on how to nurture this emerging field. The first took place at Rutland’s Paramount Theater on August 26. Two additional forums will be from 7-9 PM at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro on October 6, and Contois Auditorium in Burlington on October 29. At each forum, participants will hear from a panel of local business leaders and elected officials about their strategies and ideas to advance the Climate Change Economy, and then will be asked to share their ideas on how to boost economic opportunity while confronting climate change.
“We have an opportunity to lead in the climate economy, attract and nurture entrepreneurism, build on the Vermont brand, and support the future prosperity of our communities,” explains VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello. “The forums will bring Vermonters together to share their ideas about how to advance the state’s economic future.”
A second Summit on Climate Economy Action will be held at VT Technical College on February 22, 2016 to share the platform developed by the VT Climate Change Economy Council and build partnerships to advance it.
The Vermont Council on Rural Development is a nonprofit organization charged by the federal farm bill to act as a neutral convener at both the local and policy level supporting the progress of Vermont communities. VCRD will promote the platform of action that comes from the deliberations of summit participants.
Past VCRD policy efforts have supported progress in issues ranging from wood products to downtown revitalization, rural energy development, the digital economy, and Vermont’s working landscape. VCRD produced the most extensive evaluation of Vermont values and priorities in a generation when it led the Council on the Future of Vermont in 2009.
This post is by Debra Perry, Program Director at the Institute for Sustainable Communities.
It’s a beautiful day in Vermont, blue skies and just a few puffy clouds. A far cry from the steady downpour of August 28, 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene made its way up the eastern seaboard and angled northwest through Vermont. The storm sent relentless rain into rivers and streams, and when the flooding came, it was violent and devastating.
And now, four years away from the shock of the disaster and the patient, steady effort of cleanup and recovery, distanced by time and experience from the urgency, it’s time to reflect a little. What do we know now that we did not know then? And what do we still have to learn?
We know more about risk. Vermont’s climate risks have been researched and publicized since Irene, and the state’s climate assessment and other reports make it clear that heavy rain and consequent flooding are at the top of the list. We’re digging into economic risk, understanding what happens when major events such as Irene put whole regions out of commission.
We know more about collaboration. The collaboration after Irene was one of our biggest strengths, as elected officials, government and nonprofit staff at the state and local level found new and creative ways to work together. Strong relationships at the local level made positive partnerships possible.
We know more about our infrastructure – where we are weak and strong, and where our investments should be directed to reduce future loss and damage. We have a better understanding of the costs involved in doing nothing, versus the price of building back stronger.
We know more about what local leaders need to succeed when a crisis hits. There was tremendous organic on-the-ground leadership throughout the state after Irene, but there is no question that community leaders continue to need and benefit from a better understanding of emergency management and preparedness, as well as vulnerable populations, areas and infrastructure.
Last week, we released the Resilient Vermont Progress Report, which succinctly details the recommendations that were documented in Vermont’s Roadmap to Resilience and where we stand on implementing those recommendations. There is good news in the progress report, positive advancement on many fronts. But it’s clear as well that we still have work to do to increase our resilience (and we’ll never be done). Here at ISC, our Resilient Vermont team is focusing on supporting the new Resilient Vermont Network, comprised of local leaders committed to collective action.
As Irene fades into memory for many, it’s important to keep the lessons and the knowledge in front of us, and to make decisions based on that knowledge. If we know and understand risk, we must change the way we make investments, re-think the way we develop in flood-prone areas, and learn to leverage the collaboration that characterized Vermont’s Irene response. It is Vermont’s leaders at every level who will need to work together to make these changes, and her citizens who will have to champion and support new ideas.
Vermont’s experience of Irene was a demonstration of what’s possible – what nature can do, and what people can accomplish. Now it’s time to make lessons learned in those challenging days a part of our business-as-usual.
Montpelier, VT– August 19, 2015 – Nearly four years after Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) announced the release of a progress report on Vermont’s resilience efforts and the launch of the Resilient Vermont Network to support further progress and collaboration.
In the wake of T.S. Irene, ISC developed the Resilient Vermont project, working with more than 400 Vermont stakeholders from state and local government, nonprofits, and businesses over 18 months. The group identified critical recommendations to help Vermont prepare for, and bounce forward from, the shocks and stresses that will be caused by climate change disruption. In December 2013, ISC released those recommendations as the Roadmap to Resilience, twenty-three action and policy recommendations to help Vermont build resilience in a variety of ways.
The Progress Report summarizes actions and accomplishments across each of the recommendations, which fall into four categories around risk, emergency management, aligning policy and investment, and collaboration. Six of the recommendations have seen significant progress, indicated by commitments of funding and resources and tangible action. Fourteen have seen some progress, and three areas have no progress to report as yet.
Deb Perry, Program Director at the Institute for Sustainable Communities, has overseen the project since its inception. She notes, “Vermont is seeing positive momentum in resilience-building efforts, but more effort is needed to protect people, communities and ecosystems. We know that resilience is strengthened through collaboration at every level, and the Resilient Vermont Network will support the work that is happening all over Vermont.”
The new Resilient Vermont Network, developed as one of the Roadmap recommendations, is designed to improve communication and collaboration between state agencies and organizations working to advance resilience. It will help advance tangible projects and Roadmap recommendations that could benefit from broad partnerships. The Network will also share progress and opportunities around resilience statewide through its website, blog, and newsletter. More than a dozen leading statewide agencies and nonprofits are actively participating so far, and the Network seeks to expand.
Other highlights from the Progress Report include support for watershed-scale planning (lead organizations include the High Meadows Fund, the Leahy Center at Lake Champlain, the Lake Champlain Basin Program and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources); support for proactive investment in transportation infrastructure (with support from Agency of Natural Resources, VTrans and the Division of Emergency Management & Homeland Security); a new Vermont Weather Analytics Center, underway through a unique public-private partnership with IBM, electric utilities, and the state; and the launch of Community Resilience Organizations (CROs), a pilot program to support local resilience teams in Vermont towns.
The Progress Report and information about the new Resilient Vermont Network are available at the Resilient Vermont website. ISC has received funding support for its Resilient Vermont work from Jane’s Trust, the High Meadows Fund, the Lintilhac Foundation and the Waterwheel Foundation. The Resilient Vermont Network is coordinated by the Institute for Sustainable Communities in partnership with Slow Communities and Community Workshop LLC.
ABOUT RESILIENT VERMONT
The Institute for Sustainable Communities launched Resilient Vermont in April, 2012, following the devastating floods of Tropical Storm Irene in August, 2011. ISC brought together state agencies, local government, business and nonprofits in a stakeholder-driven process to develop Vermont’s Roadmap to Resilience, with 23 detailed recommendations for state and community action, published in late 2013. Now, ISC is supporting the new Resilient Vermont Network, a statewide effort to connect resilience efforts and organizations. The Network, comprised of nonprofit organizations and state agencies, is supporting the Roadmap recommendations and piloting key activities to help Vermonters reduce risk and prepare for potential shocks and stresses caused by climate change.
An international nonprofit organization, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) has nearly 25 years of practical experience working with local leaders to accelerate climate change and sustainability solutions. ISC’s programs are designed to facilitate peer learning and engagement among local leaders charged with the work of making their communities more sustainable. ISC has led more than 100 projects in 30 countries, and currently works in Bangladesh, China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States. www.iscvt.org
This post was written by William Roper, principle of Slow Communities, who has been helping build and support the Resilient VT Network since 2014
I’m pleased to be posting the first blog on the newly refreshed Resilient Vermont website. This new site is intended to better support the work that is now underway to create the Resilient Vermont Network. This Network will support and serve the organizations and agencies advancing climate resilience in Vermont. We hope that you’ll take some time to explore the new site including the section on “what we’re doing” which summarizes some of the great work underway, check out the list of useful resources, and get involved!
The need to proactively build our resilience around climate change and the many impacts it will bring has never been more apparent. The recent flooding in Barre is yet another reminder of the risks Vermont communities face. Nearly every day while skimming the news, I come across a new story related to climate change and associated challenges at home and abroad. Pope Francis’s recent directive on climate change has brought this issue into even greater focus. In his recent encyclical, he states, “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 9, 2014
High Meadows Fund Dedicates $240,000 to Building Resilience in Vermont’s Watersheds
Middlebury, VT – The High Meadows Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) that represents a commitment of $240,000 towards promoting planning and action within Vermont’s watersheds. Tropical Storm Irene brought the devastation of extreme weather to the forefront in Vermont, but many Vermonters don’t know that since 2000 the state has had at least one federally-declared disaster every year. In certain parts of the state Vermonters have lived through two 100-year flood events in the past decade. High Meadows is encouraging solutions at a multi-town, watershed level.
“Through this Initiative, we seek to inspire and encourage the creative and inclusive building of resilience within watersheds,” says High Meadows Fund President Gaye Symington. “Flooding does not follow Vermont’s municipal and regional boundaries and new thinking and approaches are needed.” The first $120K will support multi-town, watershed planning and early action and the second $120K will be available for additional implementation. Applications for the RFP are due April 15, 2015.
“Building resilience requires creativity, diverse voices and hard choices, so our RFP calls for inclusive and transparent process within the watersheds,” says Symington. “But, most importantly, the Fund wants to see concrete accomplishments on the ground.” The Fund will choose projects by June 1 and expects them to last up to 18 months. More information on this new $240,000 Initiative can be found online at www.highmeadowsfund.org/rfp.
The mission of the High Meadows Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation is to promote vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment while encouraging long-term economic vitality in Vermont. Our communities, environment, and economy are threatened by the changing climate. High Meadows helps Vermonters mitigate that change and adapt to its consequences by supporting leadership and innovation in three overlapping areas of focus: energy, land use and sustainable agriculture. For more information, visit www.highmeadowsfund.org
This post was written by Sarah McKearnan, Senior Policy Advisor at the Agency of Natural Resources’ Department of Environmental Conservation.
Tropical Storm Irene was transformative for our small state. The recovery was long and arduous, and Vermonters now understand that as our climate changes we will have to brace ourselves for more frequent severe storms. Out of disaster came a strong determination to fortify our resilience.
We are witnessing a similar transformation at the federal level. During President Obama’s first term, a spate of record-setting disasters – from Super Storm Sandy to monstrous tornadoes and historic droughts – prompted the President to focus on how the federal government can better support communities across America as we prepare for climate change impacts.
Last November, President Obama established a national Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, and appointed Governor Peter Shumlin to participate along with seven other Governors, county commissioners, tribal leaders, and mayors from municipalities as small as Greensburg Kansas (population 800) and as large as Los Angeles (population 4 million).
This post was written by Ann Ingerson, Watersheds United Vermont Program Coordinator
My woodlot borders a side-hill town road. New ditching and culverts over the past few years have reduced washouts during heavy rain – an unqualified success for the condition of the roadbed. But step a few dozen feet down into our woods, and you’ll find several newly-eroding gullies threading their way between the trees. When it comes to water, there’s always a downstream.
This mini-scale example illustrates one of the key obstacles to improving climate resilience – fragmented thinking. Step up in scale, and you find a serious disconnect between political boundaries and the sinuous and somewhat unpredictable path of water across the landscape. Planning, regulations and management tend to follow parcel, town, multi-county, or state jurisdictions, while impacts from massive precipitation events know no borders.
Solutions are going to require more intentional systems thinking as well as a healthy respect for the power of water. It’s heartening to see the Resilient Vermont project beginning to spawn efforts that cross jurisdictions – helping towns collaborate to identify how actions in one place affect hazards in another. We need much more of this kind of thinking, following the path of the water across traditional divides.
This spring, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) and Slow Communities teamed with the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Planning Commission, White River Partnership, and Vermont River Conservancy to host a resilience workshop in the Upper White River Watershed.
This area of the state was hit hard during Tropical Storm Irene and has been through a long and difficult recovery process. The community has made hard decisions such as permanently closing Bear Hill Road, and has worked through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) process to complete home buy-outs ensuring these flood-prone properties will not be developed again. Additionally, the region has started to consider innovative approaches like lowering roads and designing them to withstand flooding on a regular basis. For all of these reasons, these communities seemed like the right place to bring people together to strategize about long-term resilience.
In the process of developing the Roadmap to Resilience, we regularly heard that while Vermont communities are inherently linked by rivers and roads, collaborative planning is necessary to recognize that the actions of one community can affect the vulnerability of neighboring communities. In the Upper White River Watershed, we decided to design and hold a pilot workshop to find ways that we can bring communities together to identify specific measures for them to act on together.
[Using] regional networks to support watershed-scale planning and enable municipalities to collaborate across jurisdictions to set priorities and make cost-effective investments that reduce hazards for downstream communities and development. – Roadmap to Resilience
The workshop included representatives from Hancock, Granville and Rochester, as well as Green Mountain Power, the American Red Cross, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Together, we focused on proactively identifying future vulnerabilities and short- and longer-term actions that could build the resilience of everyone in the watershed. As a result of the workshop, participants identified the potential to create an inter-municipal resilience committee, generated a list of potential next steps, and created a map of priority action areas.
Efforts to plan and take action at the watershed scale are also emerging in other parts of Vermont. One such example is the Mad River Valley (MRV) – a region in Central Vermont that has seen major flooding over the decades, with Tropical Storm Irene being no exception. The EPA’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Project, administered by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, enabled the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) to work with its community on a preemptive approach to disaster preparedness and community resilience. The EPA and MRVPD will soon be releasing a summary memo outlining recommendations to encourage thinking and action across both figurative and geopolitical boundaries, including:
In the Mad River Valley and elsewhere in Vermont, the key question is, what does “smart growth” mean in flood-prone communities? While the Village of Waitsfield, for example, is a model of compact development, its location in the floodplain makes it vulnerable. Because moving such a historical community is unrealistic and financially inconceivable, the communities of the Mad River Valley are working together to consider how they can make the existing centers more resilient. They’re considering practices such as protecting underdeveloped land, removing vulnerable structures when possible, adopting requirements for vegetated stream buffers, and relocating people and critical assets (i.e., healthcare facilities, town halls, fire and safety facilities; and wastewater facilities) to less vulnerable areas.
The Mad River Valley communities are also thinking about how to support new development and growth that contributes to the communities’ resilience goals. They are considering next steps such as restricting development on steep slopes, adopting stream setbacks, and proactively identifying locations suitable for development and redevelopment that are safer from flooding.
We’d love to hear from you. What is going on in your town, region and/or watershed? Please take 10 minutes to fill in this brief questionnaire and tell us about your work to build resilience in your community. This information will help us in our effort to map all of the work happening around the state. Thank you!
6/11/14 — This post has been edited to reflect the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development’s involvement in the EPA’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Project
When the gavel fell on the Vermont Legislature’s 2013-2014 biennium on Saturday, May 10th, many people were pleasantly surprised by the number of accomplishments that will touch on the lives of so many Vermonters. From increasing the minimum wage to required labeling for foods containing genetically modified organisms, the Vermont House and Senate accomplished a lot in their 4 months.
Though resilience – and the long-term goal of making Vermont more resilient to climate change – was not explicitly on the agenda, the Legislature passed several laws that will move the state in that direction.
On the energy front, several organizations, including the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), worked with administration officials and legislative leadership to pass H.702, a net-metering bill, which was signed into law in April. This bill increased an existing cap on net-metered projects and set in place a process for making the net-metering program sustainable over time. This increases the state’s transition toward meeting its energy goals of 90% renewable by 2050 – which will result in greater energy independence and resilience to uncertain energy markets.
The Legislature’s work this session also included several bills that will help structure rules and direct our investments towards greater resilience. This reinforces one of the four recommendation categories in ISC’s Roadmap to Resilience – Align Rules and Investments for Stronger Communities.
The Legislature took several steps to further this goal, including passing a new shoreland protection program that, for the first time, established basic standards to protect water quality and habitat along the shores of Vermont’s 425+/- lakes and ponds that are larger than ten acres.
Though the call for greater attention to Vermont’s resilience came after Tropical Storm Irene devastated large swaths of Vermont in late August 2011, it is important to remember that Irene was the fourth natural disaster to hit the state that year, with spring flooding causing record water levels in Lake Champlain. Flooding, whether in coastal lakes or rivers, is a natural process that becomes, in most instances, only a disaster because we have put our homes, our infrastructure and ourselves in harm’s way. Better managing shorelands to maintain the protections offered by natural vegetation, while limiting manmade encroachment into vulnerable areas, should not only protect water quality and habitat but also make us resilient to future high water events.
Lawmakers also took a step toward directing investments into our established town centers by strengthening several “designation” programs. With these improvements, we hope to see this established program become even more successful in supporting redevelopment of downtowns and village centers, new development in growth centers and new, walkable residential neighborhoods adjacent to those centers. Two bills in particular (H.809 and H.823) improve the process for municipalities to achieve designation, and improve the incentives for investing in those areas. This promotes smart growth development, which comes with the associated benefits of greater transportation options and energy efficiency – both important aspects of resilience. Also included were revisions to Act 250 criteria that reinforce the state’s historic settlement pattern of compact settlements surrounded by open countryside as well as decrease our overreliance on the single occupancy vehicle for our transportation needs.
And, in a modest step, lawmakers passed a bill directing the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation to identify legislative strategies to address the growing problem of forest fragmentation in the state. VNRC has long called for greater attention to the issue of forest fragmentation, and has documented the problem in detail. Whether the issue is maintaining viable wildlife populations, protecting our communities from flooding during extreme storm events, or sequestering carbon to mitigate climate change, large tracts of intact forests are at the top of the list of strategies that Vermont can pursue.
We look forward to continuing the conversation about what Vermont can do to keep our forests forests – as well as other proactive steps to make Vermont more resilient – in the next legislative session.