Ann Smith, from the Friends of the Winooski, signs her name in a book to be donated to the children’s library at the Brown Public Library as Rotary President John Szewczyk watches. The book was in recognition of her presentation to the Rotary about Vermont stream preservation.


Ann Smith addressed the Northfield Rotary Club recently on behalf of the Friends of the Winooski River. She said Vermont has the chance to change decades of abuse of its streams, and reduce future costs for protection of roads and infrastructure, if it learns from the message of Irene. 

New understanding about the natural behavior of streams and about what happens to the runoff from rainwater is now leading to practices that will serve all of us better, Smith told club members.

She encouraged members to look at the work that Friends of the Winooski helped achieve behind Kenyon’s Hardware store in town. The river bank by the parking lot collapsed under the force of the Dog River during Irene. It has been rebuilt to have a more gradual banking, with internal drainage to slow down and redirect high water.

Smith explained that the natural course of rainwater is to be absorbed into the ground, with smaller amounts either being taken in by trees, evaporating, or running off directly from the surface into streams.

The water that is absorbed becomes the ground water source that feeds streams gradually, and protects against drought. When more and more development prevents water from being absorbed, much more rushes directly into streams.

Smith identified a number of solutions that Friends of the Winooski is encouraging.

Further development along stream banks needs to be restricted by creating river buffers zones. Culverts that allow water courses under roads need to be larger; rain gardens and rain barrels can contribute to slowing runoff. Planting trees along stream banks help absorb water and strengthen banks.

Smith said that local school children helped with a tree planting project to address the town’s well fields after Irene tried to reroute the Dog River.

Traditionally, towns have spent considerable resources in structures such as holding ponds, storm drains, and sewer systems to manage storm water, literature from Friends of the Winooski points out. Techniques that reduce the amount of runoff and slow its rush to streams can change that.

The Friends of the Winooski River has published “Living in Harmony with Streams: A Citizen’s Handbook to How Streams Work,” and she had copies available at the Rotary meeting. More information about the handbook and Friends of the Winooski River is available at (802) 882-8276.