Op/Ed

Editorial: A different kind of flooding

ANGELO LYNN

The six inches of rain that fell within a couple of hours last Thursday night was a different kind of flooding. 

Unlike the backed-up streams and rivers that flooded Montpelier, Waterbury and other Vermont towns that accumulated from excessive rains over several days in early July, the Middlebury onslaught simply overwhelmed the town’s stormwater drainage system, sending rivers of water down from every road with even the slightest incline. It’s what created in a flash a 3-inch-deep river on Seymour Street in front of Fire & Ice restaurant and onto the floors of County Tire on down to Elm Street at the intersection at Greg’s Market where rushing rivers from both sides rapidly created a 100-foot-wide pond 11-feet deep under the railroad tracks, trapping at least one vehicle in its depths.

Driveways throughout town with any pitch were washed out. Culverts were overwhelmed. The flooded Dow Pond literally blew out a section of road along Route 116 from the hydraulic pressure created by the mass of water above. Town crews are still trying to find a culvert big enough to replace it, and hopefully prevent a repeat if similar rains fall again.

And that’s today’s quandary: Just how big do we need to go? 

What size culverts or storm drains can handle a 6-inch deluge, let along even more, in such a short time? How do we build stormwater systems to handle a changing climate that may make such rains frequent? With one of Middlebury’s wastewater treatment pumps limping along and waiting for repairs, or replacement, will that be adequate? Is bigger better now, or do we wait for the next failure?

Homeowners face a similar conundrum. Flooded basements and rutted driveways were the most common kind of damage caused primarily from saturated soils aggravated by the huge amount of rainwater coming off roofs. And that’s another difference: when damage is done just by rain coming off the roof of your house, it’s not just those houses next to flooded streams or rivers or gullies that are damaged, it’s almost everywhere. 

How do you plan for that? Is there a solution? 

Believe it or not, there are obvious solutions. First, believe the science, believe your eyes. Climate change caused by man-made actions that pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is real and what we’re seeing is the beginning stages of what happens when the Earth warms too much. While each of us can try the best we can to minimize the ill effects that will have on us personally, the logical next step is to join with those who are advocating to reduce carbon emissions. 

Groups for young adults, including 350.org that had its early roots right here at Middlebury College 16 years ago by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben (among others), are growing in numbers and power worldwide, while also spawning new groups such as Leaders We Deserve, a nationwide effort to elect young people to state legislatures and to Congress, and to support candidates of any age who champion their causes. Those nearing 60 should check out Third Act, as in the third act of your life. Their motto is: “We are building a community of Americans over the age of sixty determined to change the world for the better. Together, we use our life experience, skills, and resources to build a better tomorrow.” 

It’s also founded by Ripton resident and activist Bill McKibben, who has travelled the world these past 30-plus years sounding the alarm about the changing climate, and whose one bit of optimism these days is finally seeing the political will to admit the problem in most countries (the Republican Party in the U.S. is one of the few exceptions) and begin to do something about it. 

Not that climate change should be a partisan issue. On the contrary, it should be nonpartisan. It’s everyone’s concern, and to everyone’s advantage to start to solve the many problems that are being created by a climate that spawns huge forest fires every summer, deadly heat waves, horrendous flooding, powerful storms, devastation to farms and the farming life, warming oceans killing marine life and rising seas that threaten coastal populations around the world.

But the first step, the very first step, is to get everyone on the same page, and the more Americans that at least admit the climate is changing, and not for the better, the faster we can all agree to do something about it. 

It’s difficult to imagine that happening within the current Republican Party, but if local chapters of Third Act, 350.org and other groups can work together at the community level, and if that can spread like the wildfires this summer in Canada, there’s a chance the GOP will either get the message or be left behind for a new coalition of Americans who simply want to meet the problem head-on, stop the idiotic denials, and do the hard work necessary for the good of the country — and their own backyards.

At least that’s a path of hope, whereas there’s no hope in denial.

Angelo Lynn

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