ST. ALBANS — Vermont will invest millions of state and local funds in Lake Champlain cleanup efforts over the next few years. To insure the money results in a cleaner Lake Champlain, the Environmental Protection Agency has set a series of implementation deadlines.
In addition, officials at the Agency of Natural Resources say they will provide an annual report outlining phosphorous reductions achieved each year.
Phosphorous, a naturally occurring nutrient, is at excessive levels in much of Lake Champlain, where it encourages the growth of blue-green algae. The algae are a source of toxins, which can cause death in animals and gastrointestinal illness in humans.
To reduce phosphorous to a level that will insure water quality, the EPA has issued pollution limits for every segments of the lake. Those limits are further broken down by source – developed land, streams, and agriculture.
If the state does not meet the targets, EPA has said it will require additional phosphorous reductions from wastewater treatment plants and other sources with a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, such as municipal storm sewer separation system (MS4) permits. Both St. Albans City and Town are subject to MS4 permits.
Should the state fail to meet its obligations, EPA also may expand the number of pollution sources required to obtain federal discharge permits, including the number of municipalities regulated under MS4.
Finally, EPA could increase federal enforcement activities in the Lake Champlain watershed.
By the end of 2017, the state must have a series of programs aimed at reducing pollution from every land use in the basin. Sample programs include increased technical support for foresters to reduce erosion from logging roads, a transportation permit for state and municipalities aimed at reducing runoff, a certification program for small farms, and a host of other steps outlined in the state’s phase one implementation plan.
In early 2017, EPA will issue an initial report card on phase one and a final report card in 2018, stating how well the state has implemented those programs.
After that report card, accountability will shift to phase two — implementation of tactical plans specific to 10 separate basins, beginning with the Lamoille and Missisquoi basins.
Each basin plan will have an implementation table, prioritizing the actions to be taken in each to reduce phosphorous and setting deadlines for their achievement.
The plans will be updated every five years, and EPA will evaluate the state’s success in implementing the plan at the mid-way point and at the end of five years. For example, the state must have a plan in place for Missisquoi in 2016, with an interim report card from EPA in 2019 and a final one in 2021, the same year the state will issue a new updated basin plan. In all, the state will issue four plans for the basin between now and 2031.
St. Albans Bay
No basin plans or report cards are going to be issued for St. Albans Bay.
However, in 2032 the state will be required to determine whether additional treatment is required for phosphorous at the bottom of the bay.
St. Albans and Missisquoi bays are the only areas of the lake where phosphorous stored in sediments is being churned from the bottom and back into the water column.
Remedial treatment of the sediments in Missisquoi Bay isn’t possible because of the size of the affected area, 22,000 acres, according to the EPA.
In St. Albans Bay, the affected sediments are confined to a much smaller area. However, EPA agreed with state experts that the sediment should not be treated until the amount of phosphorous coming into the bay has been reduced.
“Phosphorous concentrations in the tributary streams draining to St. Albans Bay are among the highest in the Lake Champlain basin because of uncontrolled nonpoint sources in the bay’s watershed. If these external phosphorous sources are not adequately reduced before an in-lake treatment takes place, the longevity and effectiveness of an internal treatment would be seriously compromised,” the TMDL reads.
To control nonpoint sources, the state is tightening regulatory requirements for farmers, and implementing a range of programs aimed at reducing phosphorous from stream bank erosion and forested lands, as outlined in Friday’s Messenger.
Vermont had initially sought to avoid potentially expensive upgrades to its wastewater treatment facilities as part of the TMDL. In the end, EPA agreed to tighter pollution limits on only larger facilities in watersheds where wastewater is a significant source of phosphorous. About half of the state’s facilities, including St. Albans City’s plant, will have new, lower phosphorous limits.
To reduce runoff from other developed lands, the state is creating a permit for the state’s roadways. As part of the permit, the Agency of Transportation (VTrans) will be required to identify and prioritize places where stormwater and sediment are getting into Lake Champlain. VTrans will also have to change how it maintains roadways to minimize impact on water quality.
Towns are being asked to follow suit. Indeed, the TMDL assumes reductions from all unpaved dirt roads in most sections of the basin. When it comes to developed land, back roads are the largest source of phosphorous, “due primarily to erosion and sedimentation from poorly managed roadside ditches,” according to the TMDL.
To assist towns in addressing stormwater from roads, VTrans has already begun providing training and technical assistance to municipal public works staff.
The state also will require stormwater permits for existing impervious surfaces, such as buildings and parking lots covering more than three acres, even if those projects were built before such permits were required. In addition, the state is considering regulating projects with less than an acre of impervious surface.
Stormwater discharge limits for communities with MS4 permits will be revised.
In addition to increased use of its regulatory authority, the state will assist municipalities in the adoption of local ordinances to protect stream corridors and reduce stormwater impacts from future developments.
In connection with the University of Vermont, the state will also provide technical assistance to developers and municipalities wishing to use green infrastructure to reduce and treat stormwater runoff.