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Below The Surface

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lake Flooding Impacts Us in Many Ways

We have all been watching the steady rise in Lake Champlain very closely. Here at ECHO, with our first floor at 104 ft, we are still over a foot above the current lake level. The aerial photo is of ECHO. To see more go to the Lake Champlain Basin Program album. This floor level, along with our sea walls and paving, has managed to keep the encroaching lake at bay. But this has not been the reality for many folks living along the lake or near the swollen rivers. ECHO Board member Buzz Hoerr has a place in Colchester. I will let him tell his story….

Phelan Fretz
Executive Director

Here are some observations from dealing with lakeshore flooding for the past couple of weeks at our home, surrounded by water.

For our kids, it's very important to keep it light, they feed on the emotional reactions we have. So when it's sunny and calm, we have canoe races up and down the road, and they go exploring on sailboards through the woods. It can be overwhelming if you don't take the wins when they happen. There are plenty of tough days, like yesterday's wind/waves and then last night seeing this next front re-forecasted to be much more of a rain event than originally believed. When you take a few trips a day to the "outside", literally a few hundred feet up the road, people are gardening, fixing ruts beside their driveways, mulching around trees, while you will be returning to your own little disaster zone, rowing into your house with groceries, laundry, kids from school, medical needs, it seems very surreal.

When I saw the reactions of those in Japan and in the SE US to what they've been through, it kind of hits you from a distance. But when you live something like this, and feel how disorienting it is (and this isn't anywhere near as bad as what they've been through), the loss of order we all depend on in our daily lives so we can deal with the social ups and downs of money, work, kids, etc. all changes completely, and it really throws you off. I think that is what has struck me the most. People say and do things, both good and not good, that they would never "normally" do. People will do things that take care of their own lives but intrude on others, like charging up and down a flooded road not thinking at all what those waves are doing to the insides of garages, crawlspaces, etc. And others offer to help and will do extraordinary things they might not normally do, like let you sleep in their less damaged house, or use their shower or bathrooms because they have septic and you don't. Besides what each of us is dealing with ourselves, that can really help or hurt a lot. Constantly telling yourself there is nothing you can do to change the weather, only little things to keep the damage to a minimum and your living situation tolerable, can never stop, or you can become terrified when waves or logs are pounding your house all night and you blame yourself. Helplessness is not a fun state to be in when it's not just your house, but your home, in so many ways you never really thought about before. We miss our dog, there's nowhere for him to go to do his business, so we put him in the kennel. No matter how low I get, he always thinks I'm the greatest person in the world. I could use that certainty, that unquestioning faith and devotion now!

We realize it will go down a lot slower than it came up, and there will be times when big rain and winds will disrupt the movement back to what is "normal". Clearly, with the lake about a foot above average for several years now, we are in a "new normal", and actually have been for a while. Evidence of increased precipitation is there, but also we have paved, roofed, drained and tiled so much of our developed acreage and farmland that the water gets down here much more quickly than it used to, thus the critical mass that led to this. People have diked the one outlet for the lake, the Richelieu River in Quebec, with seawalls to protect all the homes along it all the way to the St. Lawrence. So the ability to spread out over its banks to the normal floodplains that are now farm fields has been pretty much eliminated, holding up the draining process of the many more rivers that empty into Lake Champlain. And think of the literally years of excess nutrients and toxic pollutants from silted river channels, farm fields, yards, parking lots, etc, that will have an effect we can't possibly measure yet if ever, all coming down in the space of the last few weeks.

My first neighbor had lived in this spot for many years, and was a man of few words who I really respected and looked to for experience from his time here. He told me one thing that rings in my ears now, "the lake always wins".....

Buzz Hoerr

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing what it's like to live on the front lines, Buzz. My hopes are that warm sunny days return soon for you family and for all the people affected by these floods, as well as for the Lake itself to have time to heal.

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