(HOST) The second round of severe flooding in Vermont this year has commentator and
former jouralist Louis Porter, now Lake Champlain Lakekeeper for the
Conservation Law Foundation, thinking about the state’s past
relationship with high water – and its future.
After seeing the rebuilding of his home state a year after the 1927
flood, and perhaps still smarting from criticism of his handling of a
disaster in Mississippi the same year, President Calvin Coolidge
delivered perhaps his most famous quote in Bennington. He said, "If the spirit
of Liberty should vanish from other parts of our Union and the support
of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from
the generous store held by the people of the brave little state of
Vermont." It is a quote that has become nearly ubiquitous
over the last few days as we have begun to clean up from the second in a
pair of historic floods in a matter of months.
transportation and water infrastructure were the institutions Coolidge
was thinking of. But they are owned in common and they have languished
for want of national support over the last four decades. Spending on
them has declined until we Americans spend half as much – as a share of
GDP – as the Europeans, and a third as much as the Chinese.
kind of public infrastructure is directly tied to flooding in two ways.
First, when built as it has traditionally been it helps cause it. When
massive amounts of water hit parking lots, roads and roofs it rushes
together, threatening dams, over-topping sewer plants, filling streams to
overflowing and contributing to massive human, economic and
Second, that infrastructure, from covered
bridges to highways, gets destroyed by flooding as we have seen twice in
Not every year will see the remnants of a hurricane
strike Vermont or the swift snow melt and heavy rain we had this spring,
let alone both. But according to those who know sudden, fierce storms
are likely to become increasingly common in New England with the wetter
and more violent climate we have inflicted on ourselves.
As one flood
victim explained the flooding to a reporter this week "the river
couldn’t take no more." We can no longer accept the old way getting
water in as much volume as we can into the nearest stream and making it
our downstream neighbors’ problem as quickly as we can.
There is a
solution and it can come from Vermont. As we repair and replace the
roads, bridges, parking lots and buildings we have lost this week, and
those washed away in the spring, we should insist on modern methods that
slows water down, allows it to settle and puts as much of it as we can
into the ground. Vermonters are already experimenting with these
techniques and they bring with them jobs and expertise which will be
increasingly necessary, as well as the chance to protect ourselves and
Vermont, with our strong financial footing, a bond rating
second to none and a dedication to working together – not to mention a
tremendous amount of commonly owned property to repair – can finance and
build these projects. Along the way, the brave little state of Vermont just might replenish support for
at least one languishing national institution.