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Walking the Wells

Under a hot August sun, two people in field vests armed with measuring rods slowly and steadily make their way down the Wells River. Redstart’s resident stream expert, Rudi, and summer intern, Elizabeth Schrang, are conducting a stream geomorphic and habitat survey of 29 miles of the Wells River and its tributaries for the Connecticut River Watershed Council and the Caledonia County Natural Resources Conservation District. As they make their way down the river, the two measure and record information about sediment transport, erosion, habitat quality, and overall habitat connectivity.

wells river main stemAs they work, Rudi and Elizabeth take cross sections in each stretch of water to understand the relationship between the river, its floodplain, and the valley walls. First, Rudi identifies a point where the thalweg, the deepest part of the channel, crosses from one side to another. This is called the cross-over point. Taking careful measurements, Rudi records the depth of the channel as he moves across the stream. These measurements allow stream scientists to calculate entrenchment, incision, and gauge floodplain access. Elizabeth takes measurements of the largest mobile rocks on the streambed and the side bars that indicates the size of sediment that the system is capable of moving.

measuring a cross section of the wells riverFour years after Hurricane Irene’s heavy downpours tore through the state, geomorphic and habitat assessments like these can help towns identify undersized bridges and culverts that are at risk of being washed out. The data gathered can also identify where the river has access to undeveloped floodplains that can absorb floodwaters and take pressure off developed infrastructure such as roads and buildings. These floodplains can later be protected through conservation easements and planting of forested riparian buffers. With the information gathered by Redstart, the Connecticut River Watershed Council and the Caledonia County Natural Resources Conservation District are helping Vermont prepare for the adverse weather events of the future.

an undersized culvert on the wells river

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