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RiverSmart Communities: Supporting Ecologically Restorative Flood Prevention and Remediation in New England

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Project Description: 

This project will link fluvial geomorphology to New England-specific climate, landscape, ecology, population, and infrastructure to develop best management practices for flood prevention. Also, it will uncover challenges and constraints caused by distinct jurisdictional and institutional fragmentation, highlighting successful strategies for overcoming these. The extension aspect will take this much-needed scientific and institutional knowledge and disseminate it among towns, government officials, landowners, businesses, environmental organizations, road crews, and others.

New Englanders are frequently impacted by damaging floods. Commonly, mitigation and restoration focuses on alteration of channel infrastructure (e.g. dams, levees, revetments, channel straightening), and replacement of roads, bridges and culverts. However, these approaches can increase risk and the potential scale of flood hazards downstream, can re-create vulnerable infrastructure, and can disrupt ecological function. In recent years, other regions of the country have moved toward flood mitigation and protection that work with, rather than against, natural fluvial and geomorphological processes. These methods provide longer-term flood protection at lower cost, and concurrently support environmental, fish and wildlife goals. New England has been slow to make this transition for at least two reasons: slow dissemination of fluvial-geomorphological understanding; and jurisdictional fragmentation in which towns, as well as states and federal agencies, have authority over land use.

This project's intended impacts include:

  1. access to our flood remediation approaches and outcomes database;
  2. a synthesis of best-practices in fluvial geomorphology, flood remediation and prevention based on the state of the science;
  3. scholarly literature recognizing trans-boundary governance, the role of local and ad-hoc jurisdictions and institutions in achieving complex environmental goal;
  4. improved understanding of New England's particular jurisdictional challenges and legacies, and how these impact river and flood management and history;
  5. broadened understanding of ecologically restorative flood prevention and remediation in New England;
  6. cataloged and better understood regulatory and institutional frameworks and improved navigation of these to maximize support and resource use;
  7. promotion of new cross-jurisdictional relationships and collaborations (e.g. towns and conservation districts; road crews and riparian restoration);
  8. greater application of ecologically restorative flood prevention and remediation in New England rivers;
  9. improved adherence to regulations meant to protect aquatic, riparian and floodplain ecologies while provide long-term flood protection;
  10. potentially changed regulations, institutional coordination mechanisms, policy implementation or funding approaches that better support ecologically restorative flood prevention and remediation; and
  11. ultimately, New England communities protected from future flood damage, while allowing ecosystems grow more robust and interconnected.

Project website:

Community & Economic Vitality topics: 
Disaster Preparedness topics: 
Floods and Flooding