Stormwater control and prevention: a good investment in Vermont’s future

WESTMINSTER — My apologies to the Times Argus, a newspaper I usually find informative and knowledgeable, but they have been duped by someone into taking a public stance in an editorial that is misleading and unfortunately trashes program protections for our rivers and lakes from stormwater pollution. Other papers have now reprinted the Times Argus editorial, compounding the harm.

Stormwater is the largest source of nutrient loading and water pollution facing our surface waters. It is generated when rainwater from ever-more-intense, higher-rain-total storms runs quickly off the surface of the land instead of being absorbed by the ground.

Along with that overland water flow goes any pollution and nutrients left on the land from various land uses, especially what remains on surfaces that seal the soil so it cannot absorb this runoff - surfaces like roads, parking lots, and large buildings.

Even without any of this pollution, stormwater runoff itself damages the river. When all the rainwater runs off the land, rivers rise more quickly. On the rise, rivers have more force than they normally would, and that exacerbates downstream and baseload erosion. And, of course, more water entering streams more quickly intensifies flooding when it occurs.

The editorial itself uses the phrase “double jeopardy” to bemoan the new permitting requirements beyond what was required in 2002. But basic water discharge permits have a time limit. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit has a five-year limit so that as water treatment technology improves, discharge systems must improve using the “best available technology.”

That review requirement is part and parcel of the Clean Water Act (CWA), as the point of a NPDES permit is to eventually eliminate pollution. Should there be a lesser standard of no review ever for stormwater, the largest source of river and lake pollution, especially in watersheds where we already know the water quality is compromised?

Our knowledge of rivers and pollution has advanced exponentially over the decades since passage of the CWA, so it would seem foolhardy to ignore that new knowledge.

As to costs associated with reviewing the stormwater discharges permits, the editorial misdirects its focus to merely kvetching about potential costs. Act 64 put in place a funding mechanism for things such as these costs. There may not be a specific program in place to do so right now, but the advisory board for the water pollution funds could create such a program, if it were stimulated to do so by the informed readers of the Times Argus and other newspapers. Kvetching is a waste of ink.

The most misleading statement in the editorial is “We support the aims of Act 64 - to clean up the Lake Champlain basin.”

I actively participated in the passage of Act 64 and, if I had any noticeable role at all, it was to make sure that the Act addressed reducing stormwater and other pollution sources in all the watersheds in Vermont, especially the Connecticut River, given my particular interest in that watershed.

Review and implementation of more effective stormwater control and prevention is a good investment in Vermont's future. It can be done with minimal impact to property owners if the Department of Environmental Conservation, and any others observing the implementation of Act 64, are imaginative with the use of resources embedded within the legislation itself.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates