WILLIAMSTOWN -- Northeastern watershed experts paired with local residents on Saturday to expound upon over a year of Tropical Storm Irene analysis at the Hoosic River Watershed Association's (HooRWA) annual State of the River Conference.
Titled "Irene + 1," the conference saw speakers and a panel of participants in local relief efforts using data, field studies and firsthand experience to convey the nuances of human response to such a rare disaster to an audience of roughly 35.
Speakers combined for a comprehensive look at the issues, from global to backyard and the relationship between the two, hoping to inform future policy, repair methods and mitigation techniques.
In his address on "River Restoration Strategies," Jim MacBroom, a river restoration engineer with Milone & MacBroom consulting firm, expained some challenges spotlighted by Irene:
"It's really like restoring community function and river function at the same time ... [Workers, engineers, communities] have to look at the big picture first ... you have to see what's happening upstream and downstream."
MacBroom's driving point was "be wary of what [is allowed] in terms of short-term patches." He said floodplains mishandled during emergency repair efforts -- when state agencies have previously waived environmental regulations to expedite repairs to roads and services -- can often lead to bigger problems, both immediate and down the road.
At work after Irene in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York, MacBroom said he and his team often had to fix hastily performed repairs that weren't sustainable.
MacBroom's prescriptions included "enabling natural recovery," "[supporting] emergency services," "wetland conservation," "field guidance," "preparing schematic designs," "opening up channels," and being aware of the history of particular watersheds. Communities would be wise to formulate plans, he said, as Irene demonstrated that entities like Federal Emergency Management Agency lack the manpower and funds to combat widespread destruction. He complimented North Adams for working on conceptual plans for its floodplains and watersheds.
Both MacBroom and preceding climate change speaker Jerry Jenkins, a natural resources botanist and geographer and Williams College graduate, advocated an approach to emergency action and pre-emptive mitigation to benefit both communities and watersheds.
Earlier, Jenkins provided an erudite assessment of climate change and its local and global harbingers. Partway through, he paused while reciting the grim facts to say, "This is not good news, by the way."
He said four exceptionally rare happenings in the North east, all within a year of each other, speak an ominous message: Irene, this year's warm winter, an unprecedented rise in the level of Lake Champlain and a hurricane in Bing hamton, N.Y. He said these local examples "mirrored events going on all over the world."
With political action "froz en" at the highest levels, Jenkins concluded, "Grass roots politics is where we're going to move on [these issues], if we move at all." He also advocated alternative energies like wind and solar.
"We're headed into an era of great unpredictability of which we have just had a sample," Jenkins said.
A "long-term" plan was needed for watersheds like the Hoosic, Jenkins said, or extreme weather threatens to destroy river ecologies due to the destruction of "protective spaces" where organic material collects.
The conference's panel mem bers Carrie Bail and Carol Zingarelli discussed Irene's effect on The Spruces Mobil Home Park. HoorWA aquatic biologist Kelly Nolan and Vermont state Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, also participated in the panel.
To reach Phil Demers,