ST. ALBANS — With Lake Champlain and water quality drawing the attention of politicians statewide two local legislators have proposed water quality bills this session.
Rep. Lynn Dickinson’s bill, H. 29, would create a Water Quality Improvement Fund that would be split into administrative and capital accounts. The capital account would be funded with a $6 million annual appropriation from the General Fund and used to improve stormwater management infrastructure.
The administrative account would pay for water quality activities and be funded by 25 percent of the revenue from the state’s property transfer tax.
According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the reallocation of a quarter of the property transfer tax would reduce funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund by half.
Highest priority would be given to projects in communities with a stormwater district or other mechanism for addressing stormwater. Projects to reduce sediment loading in Lake Champlain outside of those communities receiving second priority. Third priority would be given to projects outside the Lake Champlain basin.
Dickinson’s bill, which is co-sponsored by several other Republican House members from Franklin County and one Democrat, Fairfield’s Dan Connor, also would make towns with municipal storm sewer separation system (MS4) permits eligible for grant funding through the Ecosystem Restoration Program, such as St. Albans City and Town.
The water quality fund would expire on July 1, 2025.
Rep. Kathie Keenan, D-St. Albans City, has proposed a bill focused on manure management. “I think that’s where a lot of our problems are in our badly impaired watersheds,” she said.
According to the EPA, more than half of the phosphorous pollution in Missisquoi Bay comes from agriculture, while in St. Albans Bay about half of the pollution is from agricultural land and half from developed land.
Keenan’s bill does not raise funds for water quality. Instead it requires all manure spreading be done by certified custom cut operators starting on Jan. 1, 2019. Custom operators are hired by farmers for field tasks such as manure spreading, seeding and crop harvesting.
Those operators would not be able to spread manure unless the farmer had an approved nutrient management plan. GPS would by used during spreading to keep track of where spreading had occurred. At the end of spreading, the operator would record the amount of liquid manure remaining in the farmer’s storage facilities.
This change in farm operations would only be required in impaired watersheds.
“There are a lot of farmers doing a good job,” said Keenan, “and then there are a lot that aren’t.”
Keenan is hoping her bill will be folded a third bill, H. 35, which is sponsored by House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee chair David Deen. It implements several sections of the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) a plan to clean up Lake Champlain drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state.
Deen’s bill also would create a water quality fund and address agricultural runoff.
Currently, the accepted agricultural practices (AAPs), which have been in place since 1995, are the minimum farmers must do to insure water quality. However, as VLCT notes, there is a big loophole in the rules. Farmers only need to implement the AAPs if they are cost-effective for the farmer, an exemption to water quality rules not given to other sorts of businesses.
H. 35 would eliminate the cost-effectiveness provision and require AAPs of all farms. As proposed in the TMDL, small farms would need to certify compliance with the AAPs and the AAPs would be changed with new water quality provisions, such as requiring farms to fence livestock out of streams and rivers.
As with Keenan’s bill, custom cut operators would be required to obtain a certification. In addition, weight limits on roads would apply to manure trucks for the first time.
The Agency of Agriculture, Farms and Markets (AAFM) also would be required to report on the possibility of using the possible termination of participation in Current Use tax relief as a last resort enforcement mechanism for recalcitrant farms. AAFM also would be required to examine the research on tile drainage and report back to the Legislature on possible regulatory needs.
The bill also would tighten regulation on stormwater, requiring stormwater permits for projects creating more than one acre of impervious surface.
Rules for stormwater management would be tightened and each basin with an impaired waterway, including all of the sub-basins in the Lake Champlain watershed, would have a water basin plan outlining how stormwater would be managed.
Changes to transportation and road management proposed in the TMDL are not included in Deen’s bill.
It does include the creation of a water quality fund with funding from a fertilizer tax and an annual fee on impervious surfaces of $200 per parcel. That fee would only be collected in the Lake Champlain basin.
VLCT has announced that it opposes a fee only charged in one geographic area, and that the fee, if enacted, should apply throughout the state.
Although Lake Champlain has the spotlight at the moment, it is not the only impaired waterway in the state, and the fund would be available for use throughout the state, not only in the Lake Champlain basin.