Coester: Surf’s Up at Windham County dams

Townshend Dam water level and historic water levels, Jamaica Dam tower (high water mark visible), and high water downstream of Bellow Falls dam. Mark Coester photos

By Mark Coester
Having lived in Vermont for 51 years, I have seen very many wet events. This one has been a challenge to many. 

Southern Vermont felt cause for worry on July 10 with concern about the Townshend Dam and Jamaica Dam.The river was up and citizens became worried. Talk of evacuations and flood control were the topic of many towns.

In the 1980’s, I witnessed the two-foot wave of water going over the spillway in Townshend. Today (July 11) the water level was far below record. The West River, while still high, had dropped between four to six feet. In Jamaica, the water level was also far below record.

No major catastrophic road issues were evident in traveling initially from Westminster to Jamaica – a bit of undercut of the road bed, here and there. Jamaica Mountain had relatively minor issues. For the most part, some gratitude to God is warranted down here. 

While I was traveling, a lady from Westminster mentioned the Bellows Falls Dam had issues. I decided to travel home that way to investigate – being well aware the Connecticut River usually crests the day after a storm. The Bellows Falls hydro dam and canal were never designed for flood control. There are times 100% of the water is diverted through the canal to produce electricity. 

Be certain, this was not one of those times. Surf’s Up! Water was ripping through the dam and the canal simultaneously. It was certainly impressive. Many times I have seen high water in Bellows Falls. None quite as impressive as today. Granted, during Irene I did not go look in Bellows Falls as the road was blocked with floating dumpsters people paddling canoes around Allen Brothers fields and parking lot.

Onward down the river to recross into Vermont, it was obvious the river was high. How high was it rising? I went up to Allen Brothers farm market in Westminster to take a look. 

Many times have I seen the entire stretch of Rte. 5 from Bellows Falls to Brattleboro underwater. Today, he water was back feeding up the streams from the main river, blocking part of Rte. 5.

I stopped to talk to the Boys, asked them if they were having enough fun. They speculated it to be a bit too much fun and would rather be having less. Sandbagging the building and monitoring things all day when the business is not even open to sell them lunch. (I’m speculating their lunch had not arrived yet.) 

I asked if they thought the water was rising. They confirmed it was. I gave them reports on the West River and the Saxtons River both being down 6 feet.  That confirmed for them what they suspected – the Connecticut River was on the rise and it was not from tributaries.  

All in all, it was another fine day. Not enough sunny days this summer!

I know many have had hard times with this storm. I truly want to express gratitude to our local boys and girls, many between the ages of 15 and 85, who know the water – the streams and rivers of Vermont as if it were the blood vessels of their own bodies. They know where to look, what to watch for, and when. They rise up with a smile and do what they can.

Categories: Commentary

3 replies »

  1. This commentary reminded me why I moved to Vermont, and why I will never leave. We have more hard times ahead, as tyranny in the form of the “Clean Heat Standard” is imposed on these cheery and hardworking people. We need to fight evil with good, and practice all the great qualities that make the money-driven haters hate us in the first place. BTW: A certain “democratic” state senator was on Twitter yesterday, comforting the same folks on whom she wishes to impose a $4.00 fuel tax to “save the planet.” I was going to point this out to her, but as of this morning ALL her tweets have been removed (I have never interacted with her, so I’m not blocked). An angry crowd probably beat me to the punch.

    On a happier note, here’s something I wrote about a minor crisis at my house a few years ago.


    I woke and rose to blackness — black and cold:
    The fire was a miser with his gold
    At midnight for the soul — the stove was out,
    Save for a glowing coal. I ran about,
    And soon revived the fire, out of breath,
    For absent fire, within the house was death.
    Yet I was sure no fingers would go numb:
    Because this is Vermont, all help would come;
    The linemen worked as one, for none would shirk
    To revel in the strength of love at work.
    All those who live in comfort, have a care:
    No panic room is safe if love’s not there;
    When people work together, cold and storm
    Let in the light that makes all weather warm.

  2. My mistake: Twitter glitch. Here ya go:

    State Senator Becca White
    Friends, Windsor County is going to need some help. #vtpoli #VTflood23


    Indeed. They should be cleaned up and paid up in a few years, just in time for the seventy-cents-to-four-dollars-a-gallon fuel tax your party wishes to impose on them.