People in Montpelier told to ‘go to the upper floors’ of their homes as dam nears capacity

Epic flooding has stretched rescue crews thin, and Montpelier's chief of police said Tuesday that three of the county's emergency dispatch towers were down.

Floodwaters inundate Main Street in Montpelier, Vermont, on Tuesday morning, July 11, 2023.
Floodwaters inundate Main Street in Montpelier, Vermont, on Tuesday morning, July 11, 2023. Hilary Swift / The New York Times

Update, 4:20 p.m.: The City of Montpelier reported that the Wrightsville Dam is holding at maximum capacity as of 4 p.m. Monday, adding that the Winooski and North Branch rivers “continue to remain high and pose a serious threat to anyone near the floodwater.”

The city said it will provide regular updates on the “record-breaking” flooding every two hours on its website and social media pages, unless an urgent need arises. Montpelier also asked residents to avoid the downtown area until emergency crews have had time to assess the damage and ensure public safety, with the exception of business owners making necessary visits to their stores. 


Residents can also sign up for VT-Alerts to receive important updates. 

More on the flooding:

Update, 3:15 p.m.: Montpelier issued a boil water notice, warning that there is a “strong possibility” that the city’s drinking water supply “may become contaminated on the way to the tap” due to extreme flooding. According to the city, the situation presents a “significant” health risk. Infants, some seniors, and those with severely compromised immune systems may be at increased risk. 

The city urged residents to use bottled water or bring their water to a boil and let it boil for one minute and cool before using for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, or preparing food.

Update, 12:30 p.m.: The Montpelier Police Department reported that the water level is still rising at the Wrightsville Dam and was about 1 foot from the spillway as of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

“Every additional foot of water that goes over the spillway doubles the amount of water entering the City from the dam,” Montpelier police wrote in a Facebook post, though they added that the city is seeing a reduction in floodwater downtown and in the Langdon Street and VSECU areas.


Amid heavy rainfall and catastrophic flooding across the Northeast, officials in Montpelier, Vermont, are advising residents to seek higher ground in their homes as the state’s capital braces for a “potentially dangerous” situation. 

The Wrightsville Dam only has 6 feet of storage capacity left before it releases water into the North Branch River, City Manager William Fraser said in a statement posted to Facebook Tuesday morning. He did not say how long it might take for the dam — which was constructed in 1935 — to exceed capacity.

“This has never happened since the dam was built so there is no precedent for potential damage,” Fraser said. “There would be a large amount of water coming into Montpelier which would drastically add to the existing flood damage.” 

He said the impact would be “particularly bad” along the North Branch River corridor and into the city’s downtown.

With “very few evacuation options remaining,” Fraser suggested that “people in at-risk areas may wish to go to upper floors in their houses.”

The Vermont State Police said Monday afternoon that nearly three dozen state roads were closed due to high water, adding that the figure did not include town-controlled streets.


“If you can, please stay home today,” state police wrote in a Monday morning Facebook post, urging residents to make evacuation plans in advance and leave immediately if floodwaters approach their homes. 

“Do not drive or walk through floodwaters,” Vermont State Police instructed. “The water can obscure washouts, carry debris and strong currents, and be deeper than it appears. Turn around, don’t drown.”

President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Vermont Tuesday and sent federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts. 

The City of Montpelier noted on Facebook that the Winooski River is at its second-highest recorded level in history, behind only the Flood of ’27, which resulted in 84 deaths.

Floodwaters on Main Street in Montpelier, Vermont, on Tuesday morning, July 11, 2023. Hilary Swift / The New York Times

Fraser said Montpelier has asked for swift water rescue assets to be moved into the area and is also shifting its dispatch center and Emergency Operations Center to the Berlin Water Treatment Plant “as a precaution.” 

“Computer and radio systems at the Police Station may become incapacitated if floodwaters increase,” he explained.

In a statement posted to Facebook later on Tuesday morning, Montpelier Chief of Police Eric W. Nordenson said the police department, city hall, and fire department all experienced heavy flooding. 

Three radio towers in Washington County that are used to dispatch ambulances and firefighters are not currently functional, he said, adding that Washington Electric has been notified to attempt repairs. 

“Waters continue to rise in the downtown area with predictions that water levels will begin to lower around noon,” Nordenson said. 

He said the Main Street Middle School gym is operating as a temporary shelter until buses can take residents to the Barre Auditorium shelter, which the Red Cross is staffing.


“Roads throughout the area continue to be closed and travel is very dangerous at this time,” Nordenson said. “Please understand that all responders are at the max capacity and to only contact dispatch in an extreme emergency.”