State Officials Hope 'Clean Water Week' Will Highlight Efforts To Clean Up Vt. Waterways

Aug 18, 2017

The health of Lake Champlain and all the waterways in Vermont is a year-round concern. Gov. Phil Scott and other state officials want to drive that point home by officially kicking off Vermont Clean Water Week.

Officials hope the week will be a celebration of Vermont's waters and highlight efforts underway to clean up the water in the state. Communities around the state will be holding events related to water, like boating tours, nature walks and tours of waste water treatment plants.

VPR spoke to Vermont's Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, Emily Boedecker, about what state officials hope to get out of spending a week focusing on Vermont's waterways.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full interview above.

VPR: What are some of the big events taking place during Clean Water Week?

Boedecker: "A few weeks back when we said 'it's time, not only to look ahead at the work we need to do over the coming years with clean water, it's also time to celebrate what's happening today.' We reached out to the myriad of partners around the state — to nonprofits and lake associations to all municipal partners, to our friends on the farms and in business and said 'let's come together and celebrate clean water.

"Whether you're interested in fish art or wastewater treatment facility operation or green storm water in downtowns or canoeing on a scenic rivers, you have an opportunity to get out and really see and value clean water at nearly 60 events this coming week."

What is the current status for funding of cleaning up waterways in Vermont?

"Water falls, rains from the sky, falls onto the range of the landscape and developments we have today and in some way, shape or form we need to capture it  - and to capture the sediment and capture the nutrients and have them stay where we need them to.

"So when we're talking about the investment that's needed, there's already an investment that we have today and our baseline level is about $32 million a year — that comes from state and federal sources.

"But as we're looking at the investment that we need — the increase in investment in infrastructure across all of these sectors — then what we're in a position to do, with the support from the legislator and from the governor, over the next two years is to invest $55 million."

Is a lot of that money going to go towards prevention, to keep things like phosphorus from getting into the lake, or is going to be more of cleaning up what's already there?

"So we really need to work across all sectors. Let's have a look at the agricultural sector, where they're required agricultural practices just came into play this year.

"So we have a number of farms who for years have been really working to keep their soils, to keep their nutrients, on their fields -that's where they want them, that's where they're needed for good crop yield — and to not have them flow into our waterways. Through acquired agricultural practices and the funds flowing through the Agency of [Agriculture] are going  to help more farmers take care of water quality on the farms.

"We also have funds that are flowing through the Agency of Transportation and also through the Agency of Natural Resources to help towns with working on their roads. Again, we want to gravel to stay on our roads."

"As we have more of the regulations that kick into place because the Clean Water Act — for a sector, business sector, our developed lands — we need to have a mix of incentive and obligation." — Emily Boedecker, Commissioner, Department of Environmental Conservation

"And also what we're going to be kicking off next year — and this is as dictated by Vermont's Clean Water Act that applies to all waters across all of Vermont, whether you're on the Connecticut River side or the Lake Champlain side — we actually have storm water requirements that are going to go into play in 2018.

"So we have granted funding this year that's going to help people get ahead of that and it's going to [encourage] some of the changes that are needed to comply with the best management practices for storm water."

How is it going to help people get ahead?

"When we're talking about all in, there's multiple different tools that can be used.

"We have fabulous education and encouragement that's going on from our watershed associations that are helped by new organization, Watersheds United of Vermont, we have established non-profits like the Nature Conservancy, Vermont Land Trust, that work on land conservation to help this.

"And as we have more of the regulations that kick into place because the Clean Water Act — for a sector, business sector, our developed lands — we need to have a mix of incentive and obligation.

"And that's where the play between having grant funds that could match a project between 50 and 80 percent or having requirements — where there are some permit obligations — helps to engage both public and private funds and really says that 'all in' is so much more than a slogan. It really does catch  the solution that we need for Vermonters to take care of our waters."