Stormwater Pollution and Clean Waters in Vermont
A healthy environment is essential to a healthy economy and healthy communities. Since Vermont's water is an essential resource for all Vermont businesses, VBSR supports strong enforcement of existing laws and permits that control stormwater pollution, as well as significant investments in additional measures needed to ensure that Vermont's waters are as clean as we need them to be.
Vermont's rivers, streams, lakes and ponds are threatened by the pollutants and sediments that get washed into them when it rains. Generally, this run-off is called "non-point source pollution," because it does not come from a single point, like the end of a pipe. One type of non-point source pollution is stormwater run-off, and what to do about it has recently become a significant issue in Vermont - especially for business.
Background: The Vermont Water Quality Standards
We tend to see Vermont as being "clean and green," but this is often a misconception. In 2000, the State found that approximately 16% of Vermont's surface waters did not meet Vermont Water Quality Standards (VWQS)1 and were therefore classified as "impaired." Impairments are caused by many things, but Vermont's waters are far more threatened by non-point source pollution - like stormwater pollution - than by discharges directly from pipes. This pollution is run-off from surfaces like roads, parking lots and roofs, and also from farm fields, suburban lawns and other landscapes where fertilizers and pesticides are used and sediments are exposed and then washed away.
Vermont's waters are far more threatened by non-point source pollution - like stormwater pollution - than by discharges directly from pipes.
Developments that will contribute certain amounts of stormwater to the "receiving" surface waters (e.g., lakes, rivers, etc.) must, under the law, obtain a stormwater discharge permit from the VT Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). In a 2001 decision, the Water Resources Board held that ANR could not issue a stormwater permit for a shopping center whose parking lots would drain into waters that are already impaired, unless there was a plan to bring the receiving waters back into compliance with the VWQS.
VBSR Supports Regulation, Planning and Investments that Will Restore Vermont's Waters
VBSR wholeheartedly supports the Water Resources Board's decision, because it forces us all to do the right thing - restore Vermont's waters to compliance with the VWQS. Businesses benefit from Vermont's "Green Mountain State" image, particularly in the tourism, agricultural, and other natural resource based sectors. Many other businesses (and skilled employees) choose to locate in Vermont because of its natural setting. This competitive advantage is threatened, however, by the state's declining water quality. Restoration is therefore both an economic and environmental necessary. Stormwater pollution has often been ignored because it comes from many different sources (like roads, farms, commercial parking lots, and suburban lawns) that are difficult to regulate into compliance. Solving the stormwater problem requires an all-inclusive approach, and the Water Resources Board correctly ruled that we must begin in earnest. VBSR supports efforts to do so, including the following:
We must maintain the goal that all waters will meet the VWQS. It is required by the law, and it is necessary. VBSR opposes efforts to undermine the Board's decision or create an exemption from the VWQS for stormwater pollution.
Requirements in existing permits are not being fully enforced. They must be. Environmental compliance is a fundamental business ethic.
Stormwater pollution - and non-point source pollution in general - is a multi-faceted problem that will require a comprehensive, multi-faceted solution. The solution may be different from watershed to watershed. We must evaluate the sources of the problem in each watershed and design an approach that works for each one. Solving the stormwater problem requires an all-inclusive approach, and the Water Resources Board correctly ruled that we must begin in earnest.
Significant public and private investments are needed to solve this problem. ANR lacks sufficient staff just to process paperwork, let alone design, implement and enforce clean-up strategies. Moreover, significant investments in control strategies for farms, road networks and commercial developments can drastically reduce stormwater pollution and greatly improve water quality. Such investments range from simple solutions like vegetated buffers along stream banks to carefully engineered stormwater collection and treatment systems.
Funding for such investments could come from related sources, using the principle of taxing polluting activities to pay for clean-up activities. For example, pesticides are currently exempt from the Vermont sales tax. If residential and commercial pesticides (keeping the exemption for agricultural use) were taxed, enough funds could be generated to pay for creating buffers along stream banks.
Clean Waters Equal Good Business
Restoring all Vermont surface waters to compliance with the VWQS must be our goal. VBSR supports strategies, including those described above, to achieve this end. Degrading water quality will create future expenses (e.g., pollution clean-up or health care costs) and could decrease profitability for many business sectors. Restoring the quality of our waters is an investment that will help us avoid these future costs, while promoting healthy communities and a healthy environment, both of which are essential to a healthy economy in Vermont.
1 The basic standards for surface water quality in Vermont are spelled out in the Vermont Water Quality Standards (VWQS), which are adopted by the Vermont Water Resources Board. The Standards lay out narrative standards for values and uses of the waters, such as "high quality habitat for aquatic biota, fish and wildlife." The Standards also contain specific numerical standards for certain parameters, such as 0.014 mg/l of phosphorus in Burlington Bay.