More than half of Vermont’s roads are unpaved, and many snake up steep mountain slopes. As a result, the state already struggles to control soil erosion that damages roads, and prevent run-off that can pollute fresh water supplies.

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So for more than a decade, the state of Vermont has improved road drainage through the Better Back Roads program.

Some of these projects include controlling the direction of the runoff – for example, moving water across the road instead of down it. It’s a technique used to direct excess rain to grass-lined ditches and other vegetated areas where it can be filtered and absorbed slowly into the soil.

Beverley Wemple of the University of Vermont says the improvements have made a big difference.

Wemple: “Almost across the board, those practices had stood up over time and were continuing to function to improve water quality and even stood up under extreme storm events.”

But the problem is expected to get worse as heavier rains become more frequent with climate change. So Wemple says the state needs to implement these practices on a larger scale to better control erosion and help keep its water supply clean.

Photos of Vermont roads

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Jason Jackson.
Photo source: Assessing the Effects of Unpaved Roads on Lake Champlain Water Quality.

More Resources
Flood Ready Vermont
Better Backroads Vermont

Lisa Palmer is a freelance journalist and a fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, SESYNC, in Annapolis, Md. Her writing covers the environment, energy, food security, agriculture,...