RUTLAND-News stories about flooding inVermont are legion. From the infamous Rutland Flood of 1895 to the Great Vermont Flood of 1927, betting on local streams reaching or surpassing the previous year's high water mark is somewhat of a local sport.
Among Vermont's most rascally rivers-at least when it comes to spilling its banks-is the 112-mile-long, north flowing Otter Creek.
Last week, several roads boarding the Otter Creek in Rutland and Addison counties were closed due to spring flooding. But the flooding-annoying to residents along the river-nevertheless reflects a new "live and let live approach" to flood management here in Vermont.
The Otter began flooding its banks a few weeks ago when multiple ice jams along the river (it's far bigger than the name "creek" implies) forced the river, in spots, into normally dry fields and woodlands, and into a few residential basements, too.
The annual spring flooding of the Otter Creek is the result of snowmelt from both the Green and Taconic mountain ranges.
In most places along the Otter Creek Valley, the last big March snowcover is rapidly disappearing. You didn't have to drive far around the valley to see "high water" and "road closed" signs.
Last week, flooding occurred near Proctor and Pittsford, including the creation of an island composed of the Pittsford Covered Bridge on Depot Street. Normally, dry farmland, near the Route 7 bridge in Salisbury, was also inundated by flood water.
In Middlebury, sections of Creek Road were also closed due to high water. Much of the flood waters could be seen last Wednesday as a vast frozen sheet covering farmland on both sides of the river.
A heavy volume of water has also been reported at the major falls in Center Rutland, Middlebury and Vergennes.
Despite the inconvenience of soggy local roads, flooding along the Otter Creek is an annual, expected occurrence.
Vermont ecologist Mike Kline discussed the Green Mountain State's au naturel solutions to flooding, best seen along the Otter Creek. Kline appears on several websites including the Utne Reader and Miller-McCune.
"The best way to deal with erosion, flooding and all the other problems associated with out-of-control rivers wasn't to manage the river," he said. "Just give the river enough room to move, change and create its own floodplain, and then get the hell out of the way. If we leave the rivers alone, in a sense, they'll fix themselves," he said.
Environmental writer Ryan Blitstein also echoed Kline's comments about Vermont's approach to flood management on the Wild Green blogsite.
"Vermont, a state with a smaller population than the city of San Francisco's, has become a leader in the effort to reduce the costs of flooding through unconventional means: it's ripping out levees to let rivers flood naturally and provide towns with financial incentives to discourage building in floodplains," he said.
Among the more memorable Otter Creek floods in history was the deluge of April 16, 1895.
Rutland County was especially hard hit by the flooding that year. The creek rose from 10 to 15 feet above its normal level. Farm land between Rutland and Brandon was flooded and was described, by a Middlebury newspaper account of the event, as looking like "an inland sea as far as the eye can reach... (with) whitecaps caused by a heavy north wind... rolling in farm houses and gardens, while fences and stacks of hay and low land barns have been swept away, and some live stock drowned."
Paul Carnahan, librarian of the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier, has seen the records of some of the worst flooding along Otter Creek-and elsewhere in in the state. He noted that the worse occurred not in spring but in the month of November in 1927.
"The torrential rains began on Nov. 3, 1927," according to Carnahan. "It was the greatest disaster in the history of the state. It wiped out a lot of infrastaructure, especially bridges. Nine inches of rain fell in a 36-hour period and horrendous flooding began."
While the Otter Creek broke all flood records in 1927, so, too, did most streams through out New England.
Though all of New England was affected, Vermont was devastated, according to Historical Society records. From Newport to Bennington, towns were under water. As many as 85 people perished and at least 9,000 went homeless. Roads, rails, and over 1,000 bridges were washed away.
Carnahan said the '27 flood still permeates the state's collective memory. Downtown Montpelier still worries about ice dams and downtown flooding, he noted.
"But flood dangers are more isolated today," he added. "It doesn't have the widespread impact that it did a century ago. Lost railroad tracks don't affect as many people today."
The great Flood of 1927 turned the fiercely independent state to looking to the federal government for help. While the Flood of 1927 spurred levee building and dredging statewide, in an ironic twist, those efforts helped contribute to wider floods during the 1936 and 1938 floods.
"A river constrained by structures adjusts by incising, or digging down into the landscape, adding speed and power to the stream," according to Blitstein. But now the Otter Creek flows long and free, unobstructed for most of its long trace. And like the refrain of the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein "Show Boat"song that celebrates America's great rivers-that ol' Otter Creek, it just keeps rolling along.