- Opportunities For
The Vermont Clean Water Act adopts an “all in” approach for every sector of the state’s economy so that we all do our share to clean up the waters of Vermont.
Act 64 requires reductions in phosphorous discharges to Lake Champlain. These reductions will come from a large variety of measures, such as installing smart practices on farms, reducing polluted runoff from developed lands including highways and roads, and using “natural infrastructure” – river corridors, floodplains, wetlands, and forests – to reduce stormwater pollution and erosion and to build resilience. Over the next few years, municipalities will be facing new requirements and greater expectations to help the state meet the phosphorous reductions.
The act requires agricultural and forestry enterprises, private property owners, municipalities, and the state itself to reduce phosphorous discharges into Lake Champlain. This was precipitated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) - a cap on the amount of phosphorous allowed to enter Lake Champlain. Too much phosphorous is a main contributor to blue-green algae blooms that impair the lake’s water quality and can lead to health hazards.
Sources of phosphorous include agricultural runoff, streambank erosion, developed land (from roads, parking lots, lawns, athletic fields, and buildings), wastewater treatment facilities, forest harvesting, and historically deposited phosphorous that has collected in bottom sediments of the lake.
Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) worked with the EPA to develop an implementation plan focusing on reducing non-point sources of phosphorous; this is the framework of Act 64. Vermont has decided that a far greater return will be realized by concentrating clean-up efforts on non-point discharges – from agriculture, developed land (such as roads), forestry, and streambank erosion.
Given the nature and number of land uses contributing to our water quality challenges, the importance of programs that deliver education and outreach, technical assistance, planning and financial support to municipalities cannot be stressed enough.
This general permit is intended to achieve significant reductions in stormwater-related erosion from municipal roads, both paved and unpaved. Municipalities will implement a customized, multi-year plan to stabilize their road drainage system. The plan will include bringing road drainage systems up to basic maintenance standards, and additional corrective measure to reduce erosion as necessary to meet a TMDL or other water quality restoration effort. Municipalities will be “credited” for projects implemented before the permit goes into effect.
The general permit must go into effect before January 2018, with all municipalities signed up no later than 2021. The application fee is $400; annual operating fee for the permit is $2000.
All sites with three or more acres of impervious surface, including municipally-owned parcels, will require a new developed land permit. Impervious surfaces are rooftops and paved areas (roads, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots) that are covered by impenetrable materials such as asphalt, concrete, brick, stone.
If a site does not have a stormwater system designed to 2002 or more current standards, it will need to implement stormwater management practices per an “engineering feasibility analysis” (EFA).
The developed land general permit must go into effect before January 2018, with all projects in the Rutland Region under a permit by 2023. The application fee is $860 per acre of impervious surface; annual operating fee is $160 per acre impervious surface.
Municipalities are encouraged to adopt floodplain and river corridor protection standards that enhance flood resilience and ensure that actions of property owners do not heighten the risk of flood damages to other property owners. Also, municipalities are urged to work with the state and landowners to identify and undertake wetland restoration projects.
RRPC has model flood resilience language that can be used in municipal plans. A flood resilience element is now required for such plans.
Municipalities with MS4 permits, such as Rutland City and Rutland Town, will be required to get a new MS4 general permit. New components to the permit include:
• Long-range phosphorous control plans. Municipal road management separate permit coverage will not be required.
• Implementation plans for stormwater best management practices (BMPs) to reduce phosphorous in conformance with the Lake Champlain TMDL. The application fee is $2,400; annual operating fee is $10 per acre of impervious surface.
The application fee is $2,400; annual operating fee is $10 per acre of impervious surface.
Although some wastewater treatment facilities in Vermont will need upgrades to reduce phosphorous levels because of Act 64, none in the Rutland Region are affected at this time.
With the enactment of the new Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs), municipalities are prohibited from regulating land uses that are now covered by the RAPs. The new RAPs do provide municipalities with increased authority over animal husbandry and small-scale operations.
Visit Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture for more information on the relationship between RAPs and municipal regulations.
Fluvial erosion is the destruction of river banks caused by the movement of rivers and streams. In Vermont, most flood damage is caused by fluvial erosion.
A stable, balanced river is one that is just wide enough, deep enough, and long enough to move the amount of water and gravel produced in its watershed. A stable stream will erode its banks and change course only minimally, even in flood situations. However, if a river becomes unstable, then it will change course, slope, depth, and/or width until it becomes balanced again. An important way to keep rivers from becoming unbalanced, or to allow them to re-establish stability, is to protect their river corridors. River corridors consist of the river channel, the banks on either side and the areas close to the river that carry flood water and accommodate the meander pattern of the river.
River degradation is among the most difficult natural resource issues facing Vermont.
Traditional land use patterns, river management, and flood recovery efforts have led to the straight-jacketing, steepening and down cutting of our rivers and streams. In an effort to keep Vermont’s rivers static in the landscape, we have created an unsustainable condition that leads to erosion hazards and flood losses.
Flooding is the most frequent, damaging and costly natural hazard in Vermont. Over the last 50 years, flooding has cost an average of $14 million a year to Vermonters.
Pervasive stream channel instability and water quality degradation profoundly diminish the ecological and economic potential of riparian lands, river systems and receiving waters for Vermont’s communities.
The stream adjustments that occur in response to disturbance are a predictable process that often results in conflicts with human investments along riparian corridors, such as transportation infrastructure, agricultural lands, and residential and commercial properties. As these conflicts build, traditional channel management activities often contribute to a cycle of ever-increasing conflict, channel instability, and cost. Similarly, existing floodplain management mechanisms, while important, deal primarily with preventing inundation and do not adequately address other activities that may directly or indirectly lead to greater channel instability and an increased magnitude of sediment and phosphorus discharges.
There is a difference, however, between local and systematic river instability.
The most cost-effective way to mitigate flood hazards is avoidance. Town planning and zoning can play a central role in mitigating flood and erosion hazards through avoidance.
There are many planning avenues that support river corridor protection such as municipal and regional plans, pre-disaster mitigation plans and river corridor and basin plans. The Vermont Department of Conservation, Watershed Management Division, has developed programs focused on avoiding conflicts between human investments and river dynamics through incentives-based river corridor protection programs.
Economic loss and public safety affect us all, in one way or another. While the Rutland Regional Planning Commission works to promote watershed programs and flood hazard mitigation in towns, each individual town has a role in preventing future losses by regulating development on streams and rivers. The objective at both the town and regional level is the same: reduce future direct economic losses and water quality degradation resulting from floods through river corridor protection.
The Vermont River Management Program provides funding and technical assistance to facilitate an understanding of river instability and the establishment of well-developed projects and strategies to restore the river’s equilibrium. Gathering stream geomorphic assessment data is the first step in distinguishing between local and systematic river instability.
Fluvial Erosion Hazards (FEH) Standards are a system for prioritizing and mapping potential flood hazards. Erosion hazard zones are derived from the Department of Environmental Conservation through stream geomorphic assessments, mapped as part of the FEMA flood hazard program, and adopted through municipal plans and zoning ordinances pursuant to 24 V.S.A. §4424.
Clean Water Vermont // Flood Ready Vermont // Fluvial Erosion Hazard Guide for Municipalities // Living in Harmony with Streams: A Citizens Handbook to How Streams Work // Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, River Management Section //
River Scientist, Watershed Management Division
Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
Office: Rutland (802) 490.6158
Tactical Basin Plans focus on the projects or actions needed to protect or restore specific waters and identify appropriate funding sources to complete the work, based on monitoring and assessment data. These tactical plans will guide all watershed work supported by the state and the issues identified in these plans are the ones that will be prioritized for management attention, including funding.
Tactical Basin Plans also integrate priority items from complementary plans, including River Corridor Plans, Stormwater Master Plans, Backroads Inventories, and Agricultural Environmental Assessments.
The term "basin" refers to the 15 drainage basin planning units which cover the State of Vermont. In the Rutland Region, there are two main basins, South Lake Champlain and Otter Creek.
The Basin Planning Process focuses on the big picture and is an ongoing process. A plan is prepared every five years and summarizes current and past assessment, planning, and implementation activities. It integrates topics of special local importance with topics of special state importance and makes management recommendations on these topics. It updates previous water quality plans.
VTDEC requires that municipalities be given the opportunity to offer feedback. Targeted actions will be outlined in the draft plan and will be provided to municipalities by RRPC. RRPC and its board will assess the plan’s conformance with the Regional Plan and can provide recommendations.
The Otter Creek Tactical Basin Plan is scheduled to be updated in 2018 with interim updates due in 2021 and 2023.
The Rutland Region Clean Water Advisory Committee includes both the South Lake Champlain and Otter Creek watersheds and has been meeting since early 2016. The Advisory Committee, led by VTDEC, is a mix of municipal representatives, legislators, stakeholders, and partners in water quality improvement efforts. The group meets periodically (3-4 times a year) to review drafts of the forthcoming South Lake Champlain Tactical Basin Plan and the upcoming Otter Creek Tactical Basin Plan.
The Vermont Clean Water Fund and a Clean Water Fund Board to administer the Fund were created by the Vermont Clean Water Act. The purpose of the Clean Water Fund is to provide additional state funds to help municipalities, farmers and others implement actions required by the Act.
The Fund is supported by a 0.2 percent surcharge on the property transfer tax on properties over $100,000.
The Clean Water Fund also depends on existing programs to assist communities and partners in targeting and implementing priority projects. There are some water quality grants for municipalities, and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund offers water infrastructure loans.
The challenge now facing the state is how to develop a long-term funding solution for the Fund, since this property transfer surcharge, as the Clean Water Fund’s sole revenue source, will sunset by July 2018. The passage of Act 64 directs the Office of the State Treasurer, in partnership with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Taxes and other state agencies, to prepare a report recommending how to fund water quality improvements in the state over the long-term.
The Rutland Regional Planning Commission is working directly with several state agencies - the Agency of Natural Resources’ Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, VTrans, and the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets – on implementing the Clean Water Act.
RRPC also is working closely with the two conservation districts in the region – Poultney Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District and the Rutland Natural Resources Natural Resources Conservation District – on local water quality-related projects, such as stormwater management.