"Work together for healthy streams" by Derek Pruitt - PostStar.com
One of the lessons to come out of Tropical Storm Irene last summer was natural defenses — a river’s twists and turns, its forested floodplains and the boulders and banks that obstruct its currents — work best in slowing and calming a flood.
Engineered defenses — such as channelization and flattening of streams, relocation of boulders from the streambed to the riverbank and straightening of natural meanders — are temporary, and in the long run, counterproductive “fixes.”
Turning a twisting stream with a natural tendency to overrun its banks into a straight channel of unobstructed current only shifts its flooding potential downstream. Eliminating the natural features that absorb the energy of high water does not prevent flooding, but exacerbates it.
Much of the work done immediately after Irene in hard-hit communities like Keene followed a misguided formula of straightening out streams with heavy equipment and piling rocks up on the banks — transforming mountain streams into engineered canals.
The work was done by local crews under emergency conditions, responding to a once-in-a-generation flood. Under the circumstances, they performed well, even if their work was not state of the art.
Since then, various groups, including local municipalities, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Trout Unlimited, have been trying to improve the stream work done after the storm.
Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit that works to conserve and protect cold-water fisheries in North America, has worked over the years on stream remediation on White Creek in Salem, restoring natural features eliminated in public projects to straighten the waterway.
Both in the High Peaks region around Keene and in Washington County, Trout Unlimited has advocated for stream restoration, but as an ally of local communities, not an antagonist.
Salem Supervisor Seth Pitts recently blamed Trout Unlimited’s advocacy for a decision by the DEC to delay a flood-prevention project on White Creek.
Apparently, the DEC wants to avoid any disruption to brook trout spawning, which takes place in the fall.
Pitts thinks the state is wary of offending Trout Unlimited after its advocacy against channelization of High Peaks streams in places like Keene.
“They’re afraid of Trout Unlimited,” he said.
We believe, however, all the parties in this situation are working toward the same end: a clean and beautiful White Creek not prone to flooding.
The project involves some work, such as reinforcing bridges and construction of stream-side berms and flood control channels, that could be done without disruption of spawning grounds.
Other work that would disrupt spawning, such as dredging of gravel deposits and reconstruction of a natural meander in the creek, will have to wait for a few months.
It is in Salem’s interest to preserve the appealing natural qualities of White Creek, including its brook trout population. It is in everyone’s interest to avoid the flooding of homes and businesses in Salem.
Mr. Pitts has said, since the story ran Sunday in The Post-Star, he has been contacted by the DEC, and state officials will be coming to Salem again this week to re-assess the situation. He is hopeful they will be willing to compromise and allow work on the project to go ahead.
We believe that, working together to get some of the project done now and the in-stream work done later, everyone with a stake in the condition of White Creek can eventually get what they want.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Mark Bergman.
Derek Pruitt - firstname.lastname@example.org