VNRC Policy Position: Resilience

As Vermont has experienced firsthand, the climate crisis is already threatening our communities through increasingly severe weather events and flooding. The Legislature must work swiftly and strategically to advance policies that strengthen our resilience, protect critical natural resources and waterways, and support our communities in adapting to climate change. Learn more about the importance of protecting our wetlands and riparian areas, and the key resilience recommendations VNRC is advocating for this Legislative session, below.

The Role of Water in Climate Resilience

We already have a crucial tool to mitigate climate change and strengthen our resilience – our water! The river corridors, riparian areas, and wetlands of Vermont have the ability to support biodiversity, filter our water supply, mitigate flooding, and provide drinking water and recreational opportunities we need to connect to the outdoors.

How do river corridors improve climate resilience?

Rivers naturally meander, which means that they curve and bend as they flow downstream. If a river has an undeveloped river corridor it will be able to make these natural adjustments without harmful consequences. River corridors can also act as a floodplain during high water events. Open floodplains allow water to swell over the banks of the river, slow down, drop sediment from the water column, and sink into the ground of the floodplain. Protecting undeveloped river corridors allows the river to move without harming people, and it gives excess water during storms somewhere to go that has a positive effect.

How do wetlands improve climate resilience?

As precipitation patterns change in Vermont, and the number of unusual and damaging weather events increase, watersheds need wetlands to be our filter and sponge. They slow down and filter any water that enters a wetland area while offering an important, singular habitat for Vermont wildlife. Without wetlands, the water has no way to slow down or soak in, and can cause damage to homes and vital infrastructure downstream.

Preserving Vermont’s river corridors, riparian areas, and wetlands maintains the natural functions they provide, supports the many plants and animals that live in aquatic ecosystems, and secures safe drinking water. The proper management of water in Vermont has the potential to mitigate climate change and support Vermont’s clean water future.

Core Policy Recommendations for 2024

The flooding Vermont experienced this summer made it clear: we need to take action to help build resilience for our communities and environment, as climate change will continue to intensify extreme weather events. Below are some critical policy actions the Legislature can take this year to improve our resilience, which you can also find as a downloadable PDF here.

  • River Corridor Protections
    • If we continue to build in river corridors, our infrastructure will continue to be damaged in flood events
    • We need to give rivers room to meander to protect biodiversity and infrastructure
    • Statewide regulations can help mitigate flooding, protect property and improve public safety
  • Wetland Net Gain Policy
    • Wetlands are a nature-based solution to flooding, they store, filter and purify our water, and provide habitat for plants and animals
    • Vermont has lost an estimated 35% of its wetlands
    • We must implement improved wetland tracking and reporting systems
    • We support requiring a 2:1 “net gain” of wetlands for any development that damages or destroys wetlands
  • Dam Safety
    • Many dams in Vermont pose a risk to communities during flooding events
    • To make our dams safer, we must modernize oversight and improve safety inspections and maintenance protocols
    • We must expand funding to remove dams that increase flood risk

Resilience in the State House

S.213, the Flood Safety Act
Key provisions of S.213:

River Corridor Protections: Safeguard high-hazard river corridors by implementing statewide regulations to keep future development out of harm’s way and allow space for our rivers to store and slow floodwaters, which will improve public safety, and reduce economic impacts.

Wetland Protections: Better protect our vital wetland ecosystems, which naturally mitigate flood risks, through improving wetland mapping and reporting, and establishing a policy to reverse historic wetland loss.

Dam Safety: Improve dam safety by consolidating oversight and strengthening maintenance requirements for dam owners, while investing in the strategic removal of dams that exacerbate flooding and pose a risk to public safety.

What’s Happening Now?

On February 21st, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy voted 5-0 to advance S.213. VNRC staff provided testimony to the committee on key provisions in the bill. The bill will now make a couple of committee stops before heading for a full Senate vote. Learn more here.

In January 2024, The Nature Conservancy in Vermont conducted a survey to gain insight on Vermonters’ opinions on flooding and river policy, and explore a solution: S.213. You can find a high-level overview of the survey results here.

Updated 2/21/24