The RiverSmart Communities program combines social and river science, institutional and policy research, and community outreach at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to research and address river floods in New England. It is our vision that river management can restore the environmental integrity of rivers while ensuring that New England communities thrive in a world where floods naturally occur. To make this vision possible, our work aims to help New England’s communities become river-smart.

River-smart: Managing rivers and riverside landscapes, as well as our own actions and expectations, so people and communities are more resilient to river floods. Specifically: reducing flood severity, flood damage, and flood costs by understanding and accommodating the natural dynamics of rivers and river floods.

A key goal is to offer ideas and tools that can be used by people and groups across New England – land and river managers, riverside property owners, policy makers, government agency staff, community leaders, grass-roots activists, and others – so they can creatively build and advocate for systems that work for their own states and communities.

In this website you can find summaries of the many projects included in the RiverSmart Communities program. You can also find educational and outreach materials that may be used to promote sustainable river management in your community.

A house too close to the cut bank

Date: 
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
Watershed: 
RiverSmart Communities' stream table
Description/Comments: 

In October 2021, RiverSmart Communities' stream table visited Fort River Elementary School, to help teach about how rivers work. In this video of the stream table from the view at the water level, we see a natural environment complete with sticks, beavers, and a meandering channel coexisting with houses, roads and bridges. The river naturally undercuts the tall bank (cut bank) on the left side as it meanders. What will happen to the houses built so close to the cliff?

Stream table simulates natural processes and roads

stream table water level view with sticks, beavers, houses, roads
Date: 
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
Watershed: 
RiverSmart Communities' stream table
Latitude: 
42° 22' 33.348" N
Longitude: 
72° 30' 0.252" W
Description/Comments: 

RiverSmart Communities' stream table can be used to teach about how rivers work. In this water level view, we see a natural environment complete with sticks, beavers, and a meandering channel coexisting with houses, roads and bridges.

Beaver wetlands provide habitat for multiple species

Beaver pond with beaver mound and birds
Date: 
Thursday, November 11, 2021
Place name or River name: 
Hop Brook, Lawrence Swamp
Watershed: 
Fort River
Latitude: 
72° 29' 26.52" W
Longitude: 
42° 20' 42.648" N
Description/Comments: 

Wetlands generated by beavers, such as this one along a rail trail in Amherst, MA, provide habitat for multiple species including waterfowl.

After the flood

Small stream and vegetation flattened by floodwaters
Date: 
Thursday, August 5, 2021
Place name or River name: 
Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area
Watershed: 
Swift River
Latitude: 
42°14'53.75" N
Longitude: 
72°20'32.99" W
Description/Comments: 

Unusually intense rains in July 2021 caused a beaver dam breach in Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area in Belchertown. Sediment carried by floodwaters was deposited in a meadow that has, at times, been a beaver pond. Protected areas like these can slow and spread flood waters and lessen damage from extreme events.

Flood deposits after a beaver dam breach

sediment deposited by floodwaters in a meadow
Date: 
Sunday, July 25, 2021
Place name or River name: 
Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area
Watershed: 
Swift River
Latitude: 
42°14'53.75" N
Longitude: 
72°20'32.99" W
Description/Comments: 

Unusually intense rains in July 2021 caused a beaver dam breach in Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area in Belchertown. Sediment carried by floodwaters was deposited in a meadow that has, at times, been a beaver pond. Protected areas like these can slow and spread flood waters and lessen damage from extreme events.

Beaver pond: Herman Covey WMA

beaver pond in a forest with a home in the background
Date: 
Friday, July 23, 2021
Place name or River name: 
Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area
Watershed: 
Swift River
Latitude: 
42°14'48.07" N
Longitude: 
72°20'14.29" W
Description/Comments: 

Wildlife Management Areas like Herman Covey in Belchertown, MA set aside land for wildlife to be wild. Between two and three beaver ponds have persisted here for the last 60-70 years.

East Street washed out in heavy rains

East Street washed out in heavy rains, stream cut through roadbed
Date: 
Friday, July 23, 2021
Place name or River name: 
East Street, Belchertown
Watershed: 
Swift River
Latitude: 
42°14'48.07" N
Longitude: 
72°20'14.29" W
Description/Comments: 

A small tributary of the Swift river cut through roadbed at East Street in Belchertown after the culvert was washed out in heavy rains in July 2021. Debris carried by stormflow overtopped the beaver dam (still standing, at road level, rear left) and clogged the undersized structure, causing the road failure and flooding damage to homes downstream. This culvert was replaced by a 9-foot structure.

Washed out undersized culvert

two halves of washed out undersized culvert
Date: 
Monday, July 19, 2021
Place name or River name: 
East Street, Belchertown
Watershed: 
Swift River
Latitude: 
42°14'48.07" N
Longitude: 
72°20'14.29" W
Description/Comments: 

Two halves of a severed and washed out 3-foot wide culvert at East Street in Belchertown. Debris carried by intense rains in July 2021 overtopped the beaver dam (still standing, at road level, rear) and clogged the undersized structure, causing the road failure and flooding. This culvert was replaced by a 9-foot structure.

Beaver dams and wetlands protect against wildfires

foreground: beaver pond and wetlands, background: dry hills and scrubland vegetation
Date: 
Thursday, September 2, 2021
Place name or River name: 
Methow Beaver Project
Watershed: 
Methow River
Latitude: 
48°21'55.97" N
Longitude: 
120° 8'2.55" W
Description/Comments: 

In dry landscapes, beaver wetland complexes like this one in northeastern Washington provide a buffer against wildfires. Nuisance beavers were relocated to these dry areas as part of a collaboration between the US Forest Service, WA Fish and Wildlife, Habitat Biologists and a dedicated group of volunteers and supporters who believed that they could create a better way to manage beavers through coexistence. (Photo by Alexa Whipple, Methow Beaver Project, methowsalmon.org)

Beaver dam intact, undersized culvert washed out

photo from the air of two beaver dams and a washed out culvert with closed road
Date: 
Sunday, July 25, 2021
Place name or River name: 
East Street in Belchertown
Watershed: 
Swift River
Latitude: 
42°14'48.07" N
Longitude: 
72°20'14.29" W
Description/Comments: 

Six days after the road collapse at East Street in Belchertown, nature’s engineers are shoring up their structures (top left) behind the pile of debris that was carried up and over their dam (still intact) during intense rains. Debris clogged the 3-foot undersized culvert at the road, raising water levels to ~2 feet above the road (and top of the beaver dam), ultimately eroding the roadbed, causing catastrophic failure, and significant downstream flooding and damage to homes. This crossing has been replaced with a 9-foot structure. 

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