St. Albans Bay Park, 8-10-2020

A sign declares St. Albans Bay Park’s beach closed “until further notice” due to the presence of potentially toxic blooms of cyanobacteria — often known as “blue-green algae.”

MONTPELIER – On Tuesday, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) finalized one of the last remaining components of the plan to clean-up Lake Champlain, a stormwater permit for properties three acres in size or greater.

The permit is part of the Lake Champlain TMDL (total maximum daily load) plan for reducing phosphorous runoff into the lake and lowering the number and intensity of toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms.

Landowners with more than three acres of impervious surfaces such as rooftops, roadways and parking lots on their properties will be required to take steps to reduce stormwater runoff from those properties into waterways. That runoff can have a number of deleterious effects, from transporting pollutants to causing erosion of stream banks. Stream bank erosion is a key source of phosphorous in several segments of Lake Champlain.

In the St. Albans Bay watershed, the TMDL requires a 55 percent reduction in stream bank erosion.

Across the entire Lake Champlain basin, an overall reduction in stormwater runoff from developed land of 20 percent is necessary to meet the TMDL’s phosphorous limits.

“Finalizing the Three-Acre Stormwater permit is a necessary step in Vermont’s efforts to improve water quality and meet our Lake Champlain clean-up goals. Better stormwater management will help us achieve these goals by reducing runoff from parking lots, roads and roofs,” Julie Moore, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said in a written statement.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent the state a letter saying the lack of a stormwater permit for a property three acres or more in size put the “ultimate achievement of the Lake’s water quality goals in jeopardy.”

EPA also said that if the permit was not in place by a September review of the state’s progress, Vermont risked a failing grade on its implementation of the TMDL. Should the state fail to implement the TMDL, EPA could assume direct responsibility for the clean up of the lake.

During a public comment period on the proposed permit earlier this year, commentors requested additional time to prepare for the permit.

In response, the initial permit application will be due on a staggered schedule, beginning in December 2021, and will extend through early 2023. As part of the initial application, landowners will need to provide basic project information.

Landowners will then have 18 months to complete an engineering analysis to determine a “best-fit” stormwater system that uses modern stormwater treatment practices to filter, store or soak up runoff.

Once the stormwater system plan is approved, landowners will have five years to install new system.

“We understand this is a significant undertaking for these properties, and we’ve taken multiple steps to help those impacted. Additionally, in light of the current economic challenges, DEC is exercising the greatest flexibility possible to fulfill this important work directed by the legislature while reducing the financial impact to struggling Vermont institutions, businesses, and municipalities,” said Peter Walke, DEC Commissioner.

To assist landowners with the cost, DEC will offer technical and financial aid, including resources to support engineering design, as well as grants and low-cost loan packages to help with the cost of implementation.

Using funds from the Clean Water Fund and its State Revolving Fund (SRF), DEC plans to offer cost-share to landowners to complete the engineering analysis for their property, with up to $2 million available in the current fiscal year.

DEC announced it is also working with the Department of Financial Regulation and several Vermont banks to evaluate ways to offer landowners with low-cost, long-term financing.

In addition, DEC has partnered with the Lake Champlain Basin Program to offer significant financial support to schools to implement stormwater systems.

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