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The natural events of August 28th, 2011 demonstrated once again to Vermonters that the power of water can be both awesome and terrifying. Floods cause millions of dollars in property damage every year in Vermont, and have also been responsible for the loss of human lives as noted in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. Vermonters who experienced the impact of Irene’s flooding will tell you of the incredible power of water running down hill and their feeling of helplessness.
Irene was not the first storm, nor will it be the last, to cause flooding in Vermont. Floods are inevitable and have ravaged the land periodically throughout history. That said, we have seen serious flooding occurring much more frequently in the last twenty-five years in Vermont.
We need to be prepared. Because we know that floods will continue to occur in Vermont, it is important that we be prepared to react to the dangers of floods as they are happening, and to protect the public health and safety of Vermonters throughout these emergencies.
We need to be proactive in managing our river systems now to reduce the potential for flooding in the future. We must also design our recovery efforts following flood events to accommodate the needs of Vermonters affected by a flood and to reduce the potential for the recurrence of similar damage in the future. How well we fare in the next flood will depend greatly upon how well we prepare for an event now, even as we recover from Irene.
Allowing rivers and streams the latitude to move and spill into their natural flood plain is sometimes easier said than done. Vermont’s historic settlement patterns and topography limit the choices on how we live in the landscape. In many towns, there is already significant development along rivers, streams and lake shores. Also, many wetlands and forests have been developed and no longer serve to capture and store floodwaters.
In other words, land use patterns in Vermont can be directly correlated to flood damage. Buildings and transportation infrastructure like roads and bridges that were located in flood plains and flood-hazard zones along river corridors took the brunt of Irene’s wrath, and will be the most at risk in the future.
As the State looks forward to rebuild stronger and more resilient, together we must evaluate how to best balance where and when to protect or rebuild after a major flood event like Tropical Storm Irene. The State will not only continue to work with local communities, but also other state agencies, small businesses, farmers and property owners to help protect and enhance Vermont’s flood plains, shore lands, river corridors and wetlands so that damage from future storms can be minimized.
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