Vermont House Passes Major Water Quality Legislation

Vermont is trying to get serious about reducing phosphorus (P) inputs to Lake Champlain, and the wastewater treatment profession is being heard.  For most of the past decade, U. S. EPA and the state have been negotiating a TMDL (total maximum daily load) for the Lake, and EPA has been threatening severely low phosphorus limits (0.2 mg/l or even 0.1 mg/l) for wastewater treatment facility permits in the watershed, all of which are up for renewal.  The wastewater treatment profession has emphasized the recognized reality that, because they already contribute only 3% of the P entering the Lake, further reductions will cost a lot of money per pound of P removed.  So now, for the state to avoid expensive wastewater treatment upgrades, it must demonstrate the ability to force reduction of P inputs from non-point sources (see chart). 

This is why water quality legislation, house bill 35 (H 35), is a high priority of the current legislature, and the house overwhelmingly passed a revised version on April 2, 133 to 11.  The lengthy bill would require certification and fees for small farms and establish strict new management practices for manures and other sources of nutrients under the State's agriculture department's Acceptable Agricultural Practices (AAP).  "Custom applicators" of nutrients (including biosolids) will be required to be certified.  The bill would also establish:

  • Best management practices (BMPs) to avoid agricultural runoff and reduce nutrient losses from tile drainage,
  • Procedures for enforcement and penalties,
  • Requirements and BMPs for developed lands and stormwater management,
  • Requirements and BMPs for silviculture,
  • A process to determine a system for assessing fees on parcels of property or impervious surface,
  • Increased fees (and some new fees) for various kinds of discharges and permits (e.g. stormwater discharges; land application site permit fees will increase from $950 - $1000),
  • "13 new positions for implementation of the State water quality initiative, including implementation of the TMDL for Lake Champlain," and
  • Water quality data collection.

A major source of the ~$8 million funding for these new water quality measures is a new real estate transfer tax surcharge of 0.2 percent that will be managed in a new Clean Water Fund.  The current version of the bill sets a sunset for the surchage:  July 1, 2021. 

Keeping up with changes to the bill has been a challenge, and the process through the Senate will likely mean more changes.  

Even though H. 35 imposes new fees and requirements on them, area farmers appear to be supportive of doing their part for water quality.

More details:
Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross's statement of support for H. 35.
Vermont Digger coverage