A powerful flood wave from a failed beaver dam above ripped through this small tributary. The cut bank eroded and new wood habitat was recruited. Point bars were deposited on the other bank. Dark, tannin-rich water drains from the pond sediments, newly exposed to oxygen after the flood.
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.
The sudden failure of a beaver dam in Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area produced a powerful flood that carved deep into underlying glacial till, and carried rich organic material accumulated over 50-70 years down to the floodplain below where it was deposited.
Chewed wood marks the former location of a 70-year-old beaver dam in Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area in Belchertown which failed and drained suddenly on July 17, 2021 after intense rains. Behind the dam, a vibrant wetland thrives, storing carbon and organic material, filtering water, and capturing stormwater… until now.
On July 17, intense rains after several wet weeks overwhelmed a 70-year-old beaver dam in Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area in Belchertown (foreground). Floodwaters rushed into a second beaver pond (upper right), where the flood wave was largely captured and attenuated.
In Herman Covey Wildlife Management Area in Belchertown, beavers are allowed to be beavers, and their engineering forms part of a natural cycle: Periodically drained beaver dams form part of an ecological cycle from pond to wetland, to meadow, to woodlands.
Messy Rivers are Healthy Rivers. In November 2019, RiverSmart Communities' stream table traveled with MassDOT's Rivers and Roads training program, teaching about how rivers work. In this time-lapse of a stream table demo we let the river carve its own channel into unconsolidated open material. It goes everywhere! We use toothpicks to mark where meanders move. The channel migrates and braids downstream, and even avulses to form new channels when large flows occur. 1 minute in stream-table time represents approximately 2 years of channel evolution, so this 15-minute span condensed to the first 15 seconds represents approximately 30 years. Next, we create a more natural river: we connect it to the surrounding floodplain, add trees, logs, rocks and wildlife. Now the river can flood onto its floodplain, slowing down and depositing sediment there. This creates a river that presents fewer hazards to human settlements while supporting healthy river ecosystems.
Downstream view of Green River from bridge. Near Hinesburg Road in Guilford, VT. At the very end of this stretch, the river turns sharply right and begins flowing south for the remainder of its journey to the Deerfield River.
Covered bridge over Green River, Guilford Vermont.
Route 2 bridge over Cold River. Damaged by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, repaired by Massachusetts Department of Transportation.