Photo: Richard Czaplinski.
Ira Shadis, Friends of the Mad River’s new stewardship coordinator, works with a landowner to maintain a driveway after the spring melt.
Friends of the Mad River launches its Storm Smart Program this summer to help landowners improve driveways, save time and money, safeguard swim holes and keep the community flood resilient.
“I realize it seems a little far-fetched that fixing private roads or driveways can support crystal-clear swim holes or community resilience,” said Corrie Miller, Friends’ executive director. “But, it’s true.”
In 2015, the five-town Ridge to River Initiative (ridgetoriver.org), led by Friends of the Mad River, began researching what the Mad River Valley community could do about increasingly frequent and damaging storms to reduce the community’s flood vulnerabilities and keep rivers and brooks clean. The answer the group found was to sink the rain and snowmelt into the ground before it runs off into streams and causes damaging flooding and erosion. “It just makes sense,” said Miller. “If we can help stormwater that hits our built landscape soak into the ground rather than directly running off and quickly filling the streams, properties downstream receive less water during storms … and there’s less damage.”
The Ridge to River taskforce sought help from Stone Environmental, Watershed Consulting Associates, and Community Workshop to learn the causes of stormwater runoff in the Mad River watershed and gained critical new insights that led to the development of the Storm Smart Program.
437 MILES OF ROADWAYS
Task force members learned that the 437 miles of roadways in the watershed, a third of which are private and many of which are steep can be avenues for water, sediment and pollutants to get to streams when not well built or managed. Forest cover of 500 acres was cleared or developed between 2001 and 2011 and is important for healthy soil and protects communities from flooding and polluting swim holes.
They learned that small, regulated activities that disturb land can lead to forest loss, erosion, sedimentation and flooding. Activities such as driveway culvert replacements, view clearing, residential soil moving, and backyard "quasi" forestry across the landscape create big flooding vulnerabilities on private and public property. Finally, they learned that people want to do the right thing but need help knowing what to do and how to pay for it.
To help with that Ridge to River leaders conceived the Storm Smart Program to help Valley homeowners address soil erosion and runoff problems on their property. Simple best management practices include water bars to keep runoff from eroding driveways, check dams to slow stormwater and dissipate its power, or rain gardens to absorb roof runoff.
Friends of the Mad River worked with a dozen landowners last summer to try out the Storm Smart Program and wrote and received four grants to advance it, as well as hiring a stewardship coordinator to lead it.
Ira Shadis is the new stewardship coordinator. He is from Montpelier and studied environmental science, established a career with conservation nonprofits from Vermont to Alaska, and has a passion for working with communities.
“Now, I’m excited to be working with this community to safeguard swim holes I have long enjoyed,” Shadis said. Ruts in your driveway washing away all that valuable rock? Muddy water running through when it rains? I’d like to help,” he said.
Shadis will perform a storm smart assessment at a property, walking with a landowner on their property and tracing the water’s path. They’ll look for ways to keep even more water in the ground, avoid erosion, and keep sediment and pollutants out of the waterways. The question they’ll explore: Are there ways to slow the water down, spread it out, or sink it in?
“And, I carry a shovel,” said Shadis. “If it makes sense to dig right in and offer some immediate hands-on assistance, that’s what I’m here for.”