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The flood waters of Hurricane Irene ripped into homes and changed the course of rivers to fill Vermont basements and Main Streets. The expedition of recovery efforts lead to some radical river reconstruction in Central and Southern Vermont. Landowners and towns were given the go ahead to bulldoze, excavate and dredge. The resulting channelization, deepening, and clearing of rivers is bad news for fish and wildlife, as their habitat was, in some cases, obliterated. It is potentially bad news for Vermont homeowners as well.

Extensive modification of a river’s course often produces only limited reduction in flood damage. Even when successful, these kinds of modifications result in moving the problem downstream. Not very neighborly. River engineering can be a controversial subject. We want to keep our homes and businesses safe; we want to keep our environment pristine. Can we do both economically?

Some European towns have included the restoration of natural floodplains and river meanderings in the floodworks of their towns so that flood waters are slowed and damage is mitigated. This solution is potentially a win-win for homeowners and wildlife.

But regardless of where you stand on the issue, if your home has recently suffered water damage from the floods in Vermont, your need for a dry, safe home is more immediate that the ultimate resolution of the river management debate.

FEMA gives some smart rebuilding tips that can lessen and possibly prevent future water damage:

  • Install a sewer backflow valve to prevent sewage from backing up into the house.
  • Elevate water heaters, furnaces, washers and dryers at least six inches above basement floors or move them to an upper floor. Use a licensed contractor when making plumbing or electrical changes.
  • Raise electrical panel boxes, switches, and outlets at least one foot above the 100-year flood level. For help in determining the 100-year flood level in your area, check with local officials.
  • Cut drywall to at least one-half inch above the floor, especially in basements. Concrete floors commonly absorb ground moisture which travels up the wallboard allowing mold to grow unseen within the walls. Seal the gap between the wallboard and the floor with wood or rubberized floor trim.
  • Anchor a fuel tank by securing it to a large concrete slab or to ground anchors using metal straps.
  • Add waterproof veneer to exterior walls and seal all openings, including doors.
  • Use flood-resistant building materials – materials that can withstand direct contact with floodwaters for at least 72 hours without being significantly damaged. These building materials are available at many home improvement stores.
  • Build interior and exterior floodwalls. A watertight masonry floodwall can be constructed to enclose furnaces, utilities and appliances on the lowest floor of the building. On the outside, a similar wall could be constructed around the perimeter of the basement opening to keep water from entering.

image credit: mansfieldheliflight.com

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