Researchers: Climate change could cost Vermont billions over next century

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 3:24 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A research team at UVM says flooding may cost Vermont billions of dollars over the next 100 years. And they say low-income Vermonters could face the biggest price tags.

The research comes down to one thing: climate change could leave Vermont with a high price to pay for potential flood damages. That’s why this team says it is releasing its findings-- to help Vermonters prepare for greater flooding, and they hope to show an urgent need for investing in floodplains.

The estimated price tag for the next 100 years of forecasted flooding in Vermont-- $5.29 billion. That’s according to a University of Vermont research team that spent the last two years building the tools to make that hypothesis.

“The work started by developing high-resolution flood maps that have greater coverage than previous maps,” said research team member Jesse Gourevitch, a graduated UVM Ph.D. student, now onto post-doctorate studies at two other universities.

Gourevitch says considering where people live on those flood maps while also considering topography, elevation and water flow rates was the key piece to making an estimate.

At current conditions, damages in the next century would hit $2.13 billion.

“Then project out that number into the future based on those increased impacts from climate change,” Gourevitch said.

That extra $3.2 billion comes from accounting for worsening climate change in Vermont, specifically using data like rainfall frequency and severity.

But what exactly would be damaged?

“We’re looking exclusively at inundation-related damages, so damages to homes and commercial properties that result from the flooding of those residential properties,” Gourevitch explained.

So really that price tag could be higher when you factor in things like washed-out roads and bridges.

But Gourevitch says low-income Vermonters could take the heaviest hit with low-lying properties that are the least resistant to flooding.

“Lower value properties and, in particular, mobile homes face disproportionate threats from flooding as a result of climate change,” he said.

The UVM team determined restoring flood plains is the best solution, saying it could reduce damages by 20%. Think wetlands, revegetation and other forms of green infrastructure, and along with it, decreased flood damages-- but also, environmentalists say, increased carbon storage, biodiversity and recreational opportunities.

“So we see this as a really key piece of the puzzle in terms of addressing climate change,” Gourevitch said.

The research team also determined that properly restoring floodplains could help keep phosphorus out of the land and waterways.

Click here for the full study.

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