Other Voices on Post-Irene Stream Damage


Written by: Phil Monahan

Excavators

Excavators work in the Walloomsac River months after Tropical Storm Irene.

photo by Scott McEnaney

After my post yesterday about the damage done to one of my favorite streams by excavation of the streambed in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, a few commenters suggested that my view might be skewed for one reason or another. So I thought I’d share some other voices and information about the subject. First up is a letter sent by one of my colleagues, Scott McEnaney. A native Vermonter and passionate outdoorsman, Scott was horrified enough by what he saw in Bennington, that he sent letters to the Governor, the head of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and anyone else he thought could do something about the destruction he saw. Here’s an excerpt:

Every day they delay is another section of river that is getting absolutely destroyed forever. I hope my words are strong enough: destroyed forever. We are not talking about a few hundred yards; we are talking about 7 miles of river. . .destroyed forever. Machines are still in the river and that distance is growing daily.

While looking at these pictures [example above], please understand that this river used to be a body of water with wild reproducing trout; a river with eddies, riffles, holding pools, boulders, swimming holes; a river that anyone in the town of Bennington could enjoy. Please know that what you see in these images goes on for 7 miles. The work being completed is leaving the river to be nothing more than a ditch; it is nothing I ever expected I would see in my home state. If allowed to stay the way it is being re-engineered, it will only serve to create mass destruction during the next high water event down river from where this work stops.

Writing in Fly Rod & Reel, Ted Williams described the disgust and dismay felt by biologists and members of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service about the man-made post-Irene damage they saw in the Catskills:

Service biologist Carl Schwartz had this to say: “You can rearrange high water and you can flood somebody else downstream, but you can’t stop flooding any more than you can stop rainfall. There is no such thing as ‘flood prevention.’ There are lots of people very anxious to put bulldozers into the streams—some because they think it’s the right thing to do, some because they’re paid by the hour. They have been wanting to do this for years.”

Another DEC biologist told Williams that “The amount of unsupervised and completely irrational work that has gone on and is still going on is amazing.”

Click here for the full article, which is well worth your time.

However, there were success stories, as well. The Connecticut River Watershed Council points out a couple of projects that made the effects of the flooding less severe. The protection of the floodplain and wetlands of Otter Creek, Vermont’s longest river, meant that there were other places for the water to go, causing the flow to diminish and the current to slow. The result was that the cfs of the river through the town of Middlebury was less than it was in towns upstream.

There’s also another great video on the CRWC site about how using the right kinds of culverts can greatly diminish the damage to infrastructure such as roads and bridges. It makes more sense to spend money up front, and thus you can save much more after such a catastrophic event.

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