21 December 2011
The Ottauquechee: Having Its Way
While “fluvial geomorphism,” or rocks moved by water, may be a fancy way of putting it, the truth is a river in flood will find a way to use its enormous energy, regardless of man’s feeble and futile efforts to channel it, armor its banks with rocks, straighten it, or dig gravel out of it. In fact, most of the things people do to rivers often cause worse trouble than the one they’re trying to fix.
That’s the message from four speakers at the “Ottauquechee River and You” seminar sponsored by Sustainable Woodstock and Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, held on December 15 at Woodstock’s Town Hall. Marie Caduto of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resourses showed a map charting the course of Roaring Branch in Arlington, Vermont, a stream that changed location five times after intervention over a span of 100 years, each time causing damage in a new place. Todd Menees, also of ANR, likened the river to a snake: grab its head, and the tail will thrash wildly, and never where you expect or want.
If channeling or graveling is not the answer, what is? Ron Rhodes of the Connecticut River Watershed Council says one thing we can do is make our culverts big enough: replacing one culvert over Broad Brook in East Barnard and restoring River Road after Irene destroyed them will cost $250,000; sizing the culvert right in the first place would have cost $40,000.
Another option, said Rhodes, for people who realize that their destroyed home will always be in the path of floods, is to use FEMA buyout money, although Pete Fellows of Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission warned that those funds are limited. Fellows went on to say that local authorities can themselves help avoid disasters by more creative zoning.
An attentive audience of about 30, including State Senator Dick McCormack from Bethel, were mostly supportive, although Senator McCormack says he keeps being asked why towns can’t just use the gravel that came from their roads in the first place. “Once the river has it, it belongs to the river,” replied Marie Caduto. “A river isn’t just water, and when you take its gravel you change its behavior.” Todd Menees added, “Although there are plenty of places where using leftover gravel is the right thing to do.” One audience member, a teacher from Woodstock High school, suggested teaching the kids about rivers; another suggested seminars for road crews.
The program was recorded by Woodstock’s community access TV channel WCTV8, and will be broadcast in the next few weeks.
By Norwood Long