In September 2016, the International Joint Commission (IJC) was requested by the Canadian and US governments to conduct an in-depth study to investigate the causes and impacts of flooding in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River watershed, with emphasis on the record spring 2011 flooding, and evaluate possible flood mitigation solutions. The Commission established a binational study board to undertake this work and as part of its mandate, the board invites experts to participate in periodic workshops to explore creative measures that could aid in mitigating impacts of future flooding in the basin.
In February, a group of Canadian and US floodplain managers, study members and researchers who specialize in floodplain management decisions and strategies came together for a two-day workshop to discuss potential floodplain management solutions in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River basin.
Two renowned experts in floodplain management, Dr. Daniel Henstra, associate professor and senior fellow at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and Dr. Len Shabman, a former Virginia Tech faculty member and current senior fellow at Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C., think tank devoted to natural resources and environmental issues, set the stage from a national perspective.
Henstra provided an overview of various policies that can be applied in the basin. He identified best management practices from other jurisdictions that could be considered as potential recommendations the board will make to the IJC at the close of the study to mitigate future flooding in the basin. The effort to make changes at the provincial and federal level also was highlighted.
Shabman provided an overview of how the United States is addressing floodplain management to reduce flooding damages. Even though the US system is well-established after 50 years of growth, he said some areas still needed improvement. For example, he said, the states of Vermont and New York could use the existing national system more efficiently by ensuring they take steps to get a higher percentage of structures insured through the National Flood Insurance Program within the 100-year floodplain.
The participants discussed the possibility of various floodplain management options to be accepted by community members, leaders and planners within communities alongside Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River.
The workshop identified three priorities for the International Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Study:
- Display flood risk on maps to aid individuals, businesses and communities to understand personal risks
- Ensure that communities understand flood risk through public education
- Manage floodplain occupancy and use through policies and regulations.
Study members and the key experts developed a report from the workshop, defined next steps for research needs and identified specific areas on which the study needs to focus.
Earlier, the study board released a report on “Causes and Impacts of Past Floods in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Basin” and a highlights booklet on key findings. For more information , see “Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Studies Causes of Floods to Help Lessen Future Damages” in this month’s issue of Water Matters.
Michele D’Amours is a senior communications adviser at the IJC’s Canadian Section office in Ottawa, Ontario.