Flash floods in 1997 devastated scores of Montgomery properties and exacerbated an already serious erosion problem along the Trout River. Landowners downstream from Montgomery Center where the river was braiding its way through fields called for state and federal assistance to restore the river. As part of the response, a unique partnership came together to address long-standing erosion problems, while enhancing the natural values of the Trout River.
Historic changes in land uses in the watershed and recent floods resulted in extremely high rates of streambank erosion and sideways channel migration along the Trout River west of Montgomery Center. The river had become very wide and shallow and had carved a new channel across a large tract of agricultural land. Enormous quantities of sediment generated by bank erosion had severely degraded fish habitat, resulting in excessive losses of agricultural productivity and property values along this reach of the river, instability of the Route 118 embankment, degraded natural resources, and loss of the river’s fisheries.

Enter the Trout River Restoration Project, which focuses on restoring this reach of the river to a stable width, depth, meander, and slope and restoring vegetation along the banks. A comparison of the river’s dimensions to those of stable rivers served as a guide for the restoration design. Returning the depth, width, and curves of the river to their correct dimensions, rather than trying to control them, will allow this stretch of the river to effectively transport the flows and sediments delivered to it without excessively eroding its bed or its banks.

Landowners along the river have agreed to create woodland buffers on either side of the new channel to create space for diverse riverside vegetation to grow and allow the river to naturally meander. This is a significant step in allowing the river to function naturally.

“Long-term loss of vegetation along the banks, combined with heavy sedimentation, led to an unstable river and a poor fishery,” says Select Board Member Jerry Mayhew. “The landowners and town are very supportive of the project. Many hope that a historically great brown trout fishery will return and can bolster the local tourist industry.”

A one-mile stretch of the Trout River in Montgomery now demonstrates the Agency of Natural Resources’ newly adopted approach to river restoration and flood hazard mitigation, which uses emerging river restoration techniques to mitigate flood hazards and restore water quality, recreational values, and aquatic and riparian habitat functions.

“We wanted to do more than riprap isolated eroding river bank areas,” says Mike Kline of the Department of Environmental Conservation. “We have worked hard to address the systematic problems and hopefully create a more naturally functioning river system through the valley.”

The Missisquoi River Basin Association, organized by area residents, received a $5,000 grant from the Conservation License Plate Watershed Grants Program to assist with the revegetation and shoreline structure aspects of the project.

“The Basin Association is very excited to be part of this innovative project,” says Cynthia Scott, the association’s coordinator. “It has brought many diverse groups together and we are thrilled to have these new river restoration techniques tried out in our area.” Adds Kline, “Fundamental to the Trout River project is a high level of cooperation and coordination between the town, landowners, and many state and federal agencies. We’re breaking new ground here.”

Partners in the project include the town of Montgomery, adjacent landowners, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the Lake Champlain Basin Program, the Missisquoi River Basin Association, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

To learn more about the Trout River Restoration Project and other water quality initiatives, please contact the Agency’s Water Quality Division at (802) 241-3777.