How can we be better prepared
for future floods?
Although we can’t predict when, Lake Champlain certainly will reach flood levels again. To help prevent damage both to the built and natural environments, some actions must be taken before the next major flood. Reducing construction in flood-prone areas and providing rivers with better access to their floodplains are two important steps towards flood resilience.
Scientists have studied river dynamics for decades to better understand how rivers, shorelines, and wetlands respond to natural and human disturbances. Storms and floods can significantly alter and severely degrade these natural features. Floodplains store water and sediment at the height of the flood, and mitigate flood impacts by slowing river flow and allowing sediments and pollutants to settle outside of the normal river channel. When rivers can access their natural floodplains, as Otter Creek in the Middlebury area did following Tropical Storm Irene (Figure 26), it can significantly reduce downstream flows and resulting damage. Removing hazards from flood prone areas, increasing culvert sizes to handle higher volumes of storm water, and stabilizing eroding streambanks also help to lessen flooding impacts.
Very high lake levels due to seasonal flooding cause inundation of near-shore structures and roads and degrade shoreline areas that are ordinarily out of the reach of erosive wave action. Maintaining forested shoreline buffers where possible, limiting impervious surfaces, and making existing structures more flood-resistant where appropriate will reduce inundation, erosion, and related damage to infrastructure.
Since the 2011 floods, shoreline protection zones, floodplain hazard areas, and development standards have been redefined across the region. In municipalities, post-flood responders now have more training and better guidelines to ensure that emergency responses protect long-term ecosystem health wherever possible. The proven economic benefits of advance floodplain protection has encouraged communities to reconsider building in flood-prone areas.
New data and technologies, such as highly detailed LiDAR elevation data, have enabled far more accurate flood modeling and floodplain mapping efforts, such as that now being conducted Basin-wide by the International Joint Commission. Stream gage data, together with improvements in weather and storm forecasts, allow residents, emergency responders, and resource managers to be better informed and prepared for the next big flood, so that both danger and damages can be minimized. Although information and preparation gaps remain, the region has made great strides towards flood resilience.