ST. ALBANS — The House Agriculture Committee will be in St. Albans on Thursday for a public hearing regarding H.586. The water quality bill is intended to provide reasonable assurances to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the state will implement the changes necessary to improve water quality in Lake Champlain.

The meeting will be from 2 to 4 p.m. at the St. Albans Historical Museum.

If the state cannot provide such assurances, including a timetable for changes with funding for new personnel, then the EPA has said it would have to use regulatory authority to force improvements.

Such a move would mean requiring wastewater treatment facilities to reduce phosphorous emissions to the lowest level possible with current technology and increasing the number of farms, developments and other land uses requiring federal pollution discharge permits.

The bill includes several familiar provisions from last year’s meetings on a pollution limits for the lake, known as a total maximum daily load (TMDL).

For agriculture the changes include:

  • a certification program for small farms, in which the farmers self-certify they are following the accepted agriculture practices;
  • farm inspections for small farms;
  • excluding all livestock from streams and rivers by Jan. 1, 2019;
  • annual water quality training for farmers and custom operators;
  • and requiring a permit for spreading pesticides within 50 feet of a waterway or culvert.

There are potential benefits for farmers, as well, including a tax credit for following best management practices for protecting water quality and a relaxation of the ban on winter manure spreading for farmers (following an approved nutrient management plan) who have received approval from the Agency of Agriculture, Farms and Markets (AAFM) to spread during the ban, which lasts from Dec. 15 to April 1.

The bill also includes changes to the management of stormwater from developed lands. It requires the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to develop new stormwater permits, and after Jan. 1. 2015 to apply those permits to new or redeveloped impervious surfaces of more than half an acre. The bill also gives ANR the authority to require stormwater treatment retrofits for existing developments.

ANR also will be required to provide technical support to municipalities and encourage them to use their existing authority to regulate stormwater.

The bill also creates a water resource preservation program to be funded with an annual fee on impervious surfaces. Households may be charged a fee less than $50 per year.

The program will provide funding and technical assistance for water quality projects.

Owners implementing best management practices for water quality on their property may be eligible for reduced fees.

The water resources preservation  program also will be funded by an excise tax on bottled water of one cent per bottle and a 10-cent per package excise tax on flushable products.

Towns will be required to adopt best management practices for the maintenance of town roads and highways. A failure to adopt such practices by Jan. 1, 2015 will result in a loss of five percent of a town’s highway funding from the state.