Study shows floodplains saved Middlebury $1.8M in damage

A vast complex of wetlands sits along the Otter Creek between Rutland and Middlebury. The wetlands protected downstream communities by soaking up immense amounts of water during Irene. Photo by VTDEC. 

MIDDLEBURY – A new study by The University of Vermont shows the Otter Creek floodplains saved Middlebury approximately $1.8M in damage.

Researchers analyzed 10 flood events to estimate the value of the Otter Creek floodplain near Middlebury. According to the study, the natural barrier saves the town an average of $126,000 to $450,000 per year or up to 78 percent of potential damages.

The researchers used data from the U.S. Geological Survey, which tracks water levels in Middlebury and Rutland, two towns that bookend the Otter Creek floodplain.

The study is the first to calculate the economic benefits that river wetlands and floodplains provided during the major storms that have struck the U.S. East Coast in recent years.

Wetlands are swampy areas typically located in floodplains, which are wide swaths of land bordering bodies of water. Together they act as sponges to hold excess water and slow it from cascading to low-lying areas.

“These findings show the huge value of ‘natural infrastructure’,” said lead author Keri Bryan Watson, a Ph.D. student at The University of Vermont. “Knowing the effects and value of floodplains will help developers and regional planners make better long-term decisions. These are valuable natural resources we should try our best to protect.”

Among the threats to floodplains are the straightening of rivers to keep water away from new residential and business developments. These actions, often to mitigate flooding risk in one area, can wreak havoc on downstream communities.

During Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, floodplains and wetlands diminished damages in Middlebury by 84 to 95 percent, saving potentially as much as $1.8 million in flood damages.

“This study shows policy makers the importance of conservation investments that make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” said Deb Markowitz, Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources. “By putting a price tag on wetlands and floodplains, we can demonstrate the value of natural infrastructure to protect communities from the increased risks of flooding from climate-related storms.”

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