Roy Mercon, photo
Public meeting set for Monday, 5 p.m., Swanton
ST. ALBANS — In order to reduce pollution in the lake and its tributaries, the Agency of Natural Resources has created a draft plan outlining steps to be taken in each of five northern Lake Champlain basins, including St. Albans Bay and the Champlain Islands.
The plans will be laid out at a public informational and comment meeting Monday at 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Swanton Village Municipal Offices. Friends of Northern Lake Champlain will act as the host.
The plan emphasizes the adoption of best management practices for reducing nutrient and manure runoff on farms, particularly in the St. Albans basin.
Towns will be asked to replace undersized culverts and adopt best management practices on their roads. St. Albans City is being asked to follow the example of St. Albans Town and use salt brine on winter roads to reduce the use of sand. Phosphorous, a nutrient that encourages the growth of both blue-green algae and invasive milfoil, binds readily to sand.
The basin plans have been incorporated into Vermont’s strategy for water clean up. It utilizes the total maximum daily (TMDL), a regulatory term in the U.S. Clean Water Act that sets a maximum amount of a specific pollutant that may enter a water body while still meeting quality standards.
TMDL limits are to be applied in each of the sub-watersheds around the lake. The individual basin plans are to be updated every five years.
Portions of all four of the tributaries leading into St. Albans Bay are listed as impaired. Improving the stability of those streams and reducing runoff they receive from agricultural and developed land is a priority under the plan, as is reducing agricultural runoff, which accounts, according to data in the plan, for more than 60 percent of the phosphorous going into St. Albans Bay annually. The majority of that runoff, 51 percent, comes from cropland, typically cornfields.
Visiting every farm in the basin to determine which farm practices are needed to reduce runoff and working with partners, such as the National Resource Conservation Service, which can assist partners in implementing those practices, is listed as a high priority.
However, implementation of best practices is listed in the plan as something to be encouraged, not mandated. When the Missisquoi Bay plan was created the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), an environmental watchdog group, petitioned Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross to make best management practices mandatory within areas identified as critical sources of phosphorous. He rejected the petition, which has been appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court.
CLF has previously said that its attorneys will keep a careful eye on tactical plans for basins as they are developed, and may make similar challenges if they regard them as inadequate.
St. Albans basin
The local basin plan indicates a TMDL specifically addressing agricultural runoff will be created for Rugg and Jewett brooks and Mill River.
On Jewett Brook identifying places for addressing pollution from tile drains is listed as a priority.
Mill River is eroding rapidly, and the plan includes several steps to address that erosion, beginning with identifying the primary causes, working with the Town of Georgia to identify appropriate areas for development and areas where slopes may be too steep to tolerate development, and working with the Georgia Elementary and Middle School to reduce runoff from the school grounds into Mill River.
Georgia, which is the only town in the St. Albans Bay basin with an up-to-date culvert assessment, may need to replace some culverts and will be asked to adopt best management practices on its roads to reduce runoff.
St. Albans City and Town already have been required to craft flow restoration plans for Stevens and Rugg brooks, which have been altered heavily by development.
One step has already been successfully taken at the Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center where a portion of Rugg Brook that had been directed into an underground culvert was again brought to the surface, slowing the flow and allowing for evaporation and filtering of the water by vegetation. The project is cited in the plan as a good example.
Similar work with Stevens Brook in St. Albans City is a medium-priority project under the plan. A higher priority is creating a stormwater management plan for the developed areas along Route 7 north of the city.
Protecting the flood plains of Stevens Brook from the mouth to the city limits is also a high priority.
Addressing the combined sewer overflow on Lower Welden Street, which sometimes causes sewage to reach the stream during heavy rain events (see accompanying article) is also a high priority, as is assisting wastewater treatment facilities to meet the anticipated lower phosphorous levels under the TMDL. The city would be facing a limit of 0.2 milligrams per liter. The city’s permit was for 0.5 milligrams and it averages 0.25 milligrams.
Stevens Brook is also highlighted for the need to address oil and other contaminants in a stream once known as “the gas brook.”
Visiting homes along the bay and assessing the condition of their sewage systems is listed as a medium priority, while helping those same landowners to protect their shoreline is considered a high priority.
Steps to be taken on the islands are similar, with less emphasis on agriculture and more on management of stormwater and roadways.
The plan does suggest creating a fire district along the shore for funding efforts to manage invasive species.
Other nearby basin public meetings are to be held:
- Thursday, July 2, 4 to 5:30 pm, Act 250 conference room, ANR District Office, 111 West St., Essex Junction.
- Wednesday, July 8, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Meeting room 1, Shelburne Town Office, Shelburne.
Copies of the plan may be obtained on-line at www.vtwaterquality.org or by requesting a copy from the number below. The public comment period runs until July 24. Comments received by this date will be addressed in a responsiveness summary.