RiverSmart Communities Project Summary

Problem: New England residents, landowners, infrastructure and businesses located along rivers or in river valleys are frequently impacted by damaging floods. Commonly, mitigation and restoration focuses on alteration of channel infrastructure (e.g. dams, levees, revetments, channel straightening), and replacement of critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and culverts. Yet these approaches can increase risk and potential scale of flood hazards downstream, re-create vulnerable infrastructure, and disrupt ecological function. In the last few decades, other regions of the country have moved toward flood mitigation and protection that work with, rather than against, natural fluvial and geomorphological processes. These provide longer-term flood protection at lower cost, and concurrently support environmental, fish and wildlife goals. New England has been slow to make this transition, for at least two reasons: there has been relatively slow dissemination of fluvial-geomorphological knowledge and understanding in this region; and there is even greater jurisdictional fragmentation here, rooted in the region’s tradition of “home rule” in which towns, as well as states and federal agencies, have authority over land use.

Approach: RiverSmart will address these issues on two fronts simultaneously. First, scientific investigations will link fluvial geomorphology to New England-specific climate, landscape, ecology, population, and infrastructure to develop, codify and evaluate best management practices for flood prevention and post-flood restoration. Second, our institutional investigation will uncover challenges and constraints caused by distinct jurisdictional and institutional fragmentation, highlighting successful strategies for overcoming these. Our extension work will synthesize this much-needed scientific and institutional knowledge into a series of products to be
 disseminated to towns, government officials, landowners, businesses, environmental organizations, road crews, and others.

Relationship between RiverSmart’s research, extension and evaluation activities (click on image to enlarge):

Riversmart communities schematic