Kids selling lemonade for flood relief

REMOVING VULNERABILITIES AND BUILDING RESILIENCE

The experience of Tropical Storm Irene was a wake up call for Vermont, shining a light on our vulnerabilities to future climate disruption, and the value of working together to get ready.  

Since so many Vermonters live in valleys along rivers, and since we expect storms to become more intense in coming decades, our vulnerabilities to flooding and erosion may increase. If we take steps now to address them,  we’ll experience much less damage - physically, financially and emotionally - after the next storm hits. We’ll have fewer homes located in hazardous locations, more appropriately-sized culverts to convey floodwaters and debris, and floodplains that can absorb water when rivers overtop their banks.

While we expect flooding to become an increasing concern, we also need to prepare for other hazards that could get worse with climate change, such as ice storms and landslides. Addressing our hazards and reducing our vulnerabilities to them is one of the best investments we, as a state, can make.

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Mitigation = Cost Savings

Climate scientists predict that extreme rain events are more likely to occur, and to occur more frequently, in the decades ahead throughout the northeast, creating more serious flood risks. Cycles of freezing followed by thawing may also become more common, making travel more difficult, and creating stresses for roads, infrastructure, and forests.

During summer, the changes we expect are more days of extreme heat, potentially reaching 34 days each year by 2050. Hotter summers will dry out soils, and less rain during summer could during trigger episodic droughts. We could also see an increase in wildfires.  

These changes could seriously impact communities, farms, businesses, and our health. In a large, national study, FEMA showed that for every $1 spent on mitigation (for examples, projects to upsize culverts or remove homes from the floodplain), communities and states are saving $4 in avoided costs following future disasters.

 

How the State is Helping Communities Plan for Resilience

Vermont state government and its communities need to carefully assess the risks from climate change as they complete plans of all kinds -- town plans, capital plans, and FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plans, to name a few. Good plans provide guidance that towns can use to  grow and develop while also preparing for climate risks. 

The Vermont Economic Resilience Initiative (VERI) helped Barre City, Brandon, Brattleboro, Enosburg, and Woodstock identify steps to reduce the risks of future flood damage that could harm their economic health. The VERI team developed a toolkit to help other towns and businesses get ready.

Vermont’s FloodReady website offers access to flood hazard maps, guidance and information about the incentives available to help towns plan for flood resilience. 

Protecting Buildings

Flood damage to buildingFEMA calls projects to reduce or remove vulnerabilities“ hazard mitigation projects.” Following Irene, over $34 million in FEMA Hazard Mitigation grants helped the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS) and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) partner with communities to remove public and private structures likely to get hit again.

Over 150 structures in hazardous areas were purchased and demolished, creating financial relief for home and business owners. These projects had the added benefit of restoring floodplain, granting rivers more space to spill over and slow down during floods.  

Other mitigation projects include retrofitting buildings that can’t be moved, such as buildings in the Town of Lincoln, which used a grant to install floodgates on the windows of its historic Town Hall, and physically elevated residential structures above the floodplain.

Protecting Transportation and Other Key Infrastructure

Before and after images of culvert repair in Pittsfield, VTVermont’s Agency of Transportation (VTrans) is developing new methods for evaluating the vulnerability of roads, bridges and culverts, and pinpointing the best actions for alleviating risks.

VTrans is also working with the Agency of Natural Resources to help communities evaluate the size and condition of culverts and bridges, so they can better decide which ones should be replaced or retrofitted.  

Many communities have used Hazard Mitigation funds to upsize culverts in order to increase conveyance and reduce debris trapping, to relocate erosion-vulnerable roads, and to flood-proof town-owned bridges and culverts. The Better Roads program also provides grants for improvements on town and private roads. Learn more about infrastructure projects.

Restoring Floodplains

Restoring healthy floodplains is critical for reducing flood damage, and for protecting water quality in takes and ponds. Floodplains absorb and slow floodwaters, reducing erosion that can destroy buildings and send pollution downstream.

Large-scale floodplain restoration projects are in progress to reduce flood levels in some of our larger downtown areas. Middlebury is using a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) grant to do floodplain restoration design work, and Brattleboro has applied for mitigation funds to remove several large multi-family buildings in the floodway and create more floodplain, which will have both up- and downstream flood reduction benefits. Cambridge is also doing floodplain restoration work aimed at lowering flood levels in hard-hit Jeffersonville Village. 

More Steps on the Horizon

Irene made us laser-focused on future flood risks, but there are other risks that will be exacerbated by climate change, and we have the opportunity to get ready for those as well. Some of the best investments deliver double benefits, such as  projects that generate and store electricity right here in Vermont, reducing carbon pollution, and making our grid more resilient to any regional power outages.

 

What You Can Do

FloodReady Vermont Link

Help your community get ready for the more severe storms we can expect with climate change. The Flood Ready website is your comprehensive guide to preventing development in floodplains, remove structures in harm’s way, flood-proofing buildings that can’t be moved, and restoring natural areas to slow and sink water.  

Apply for a Hazard Mitigation grant. These are available to communities with an approved mitigation planFind out if your community has oneContact Lauren Oates, State Hazard Mitigation Officer to learn more.  

Check out this Toolkit to explore what you can do as a business to be flood ready.