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VNRC Staff Scientist Kim Kendall’s Comments on the White River Basin Plan

TO:         Vermont Water Resources Board

FROM:    Kim Kendall

VNRC Staff Scientist

RE:          ANR Petition to Implement White River Basin Plan

DATE:    February 22, 2005

I.    Introduction

The following are my preliminary comments on the proposed rule to classify waters in the White River Basin, consistent with the White River Basin Plan adopted by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR).  The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) will be submitting additional comments before the close of the comment period on the proposed rule that expand on the concerns we have expressed today.  VNRC’s final comments will also address legal issues related to conflicts between the proposed rule an the anti-degradation provisions of federal and state law.

To assist the Water Resources Board (WRB) with its review of the proposed rule, VNRC has prepared a chart that depicts instances where the classification proposed by ANR conflicts with ANR’s own data related to actual water quality and high quality fish habitat in waters in the White River Basin.  The columns marked in yellow indicates that such a conflict between ANR’s data and a proposed classification exists.

II. Comments on the Proposed Rule

The following are my specific comments on the proposed rule at this time:

1. The ANR did not take into consideration water quality and fisheries data easily available to them for the process of typing the waters of the White River Basin.  The following are two examples:

Biomonitoring is an excellent indicator of current water quality. Biomonitoring data exist for approximately 25 waters in the White River basin. In 14 streams (or at least segments of these streams) the biomonitoring data show a higher level of water quality than the ANR’s typing.  In more than half of these cases, ANR typed the stream as B2 while the data show the current water quality to be

B1.  There were also several instances where water quality data indicate that a stream meets the A1 criteria, while the ANR’s classification is proposed as B2.  When actual data indicates that water quality is currently at B1 or A1 levels, the waters  should be classified as B1 or A1 respectively.

Another example of information that ANR did not consider in its typing decision is fisheries data collected and assembled by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife (VDFW).  These data show streams that have high quality resident fish habitat and high quality spawning and nursery habitat. This information is based on years of quantitative data collected by VDFW in wild trout streams of the White River basin. In the context of the basin plan, ANR encourages municipalities and organizations to consider these data for possible support of a locally driven proposal for B1 designation of such streams. VNRC believes that streams that have high quality resident fish habitat or high quality spawning and nursery habitat should be typed B1 now.

2. There are several waters that ANR typed as B3 where VNRC strongly disagrees.  For example:

Silver Lake: Silver Lake’s dam is owned by ANR, and each winter the Lake is drawn-down 1.5 feet based on rules promulgated by the Water Resources Board.  Aquatic biota, fish and wildlife are negatively impacted by the drawdown. ANR typed this water as B3 because of the impact of the drawdown.  VNRC disagrees with this approach.  ANR should not “memorialize” this impairment by typing the water as B3, the lowest level water management type.  The lake is a valuable resource, which should be classified as B2.  ANR should correct the impairment rather than lower the classification of the water to recognize the impairment.

Pond Brook:  Silver Lake flows into Pond Brook. During the process of managing Silver Lake’s water level, Pond Brook can experience sudden changes in water flow that have the potential to impair aquatic biota. However, surveys conducted by the VDFW indicate excellent populations of wild trout as well as other fish exist in Pond Brook.  ANR has proposed a B3 classification for this brook because of the potential impact on the brook from the management of Silver Lake.  Again, the potential impact should not be memorialized in the typing. Instead, like Silver Lake, this stream should be classified as B2 and the flow problems should be remedied.

Flint Brook: The State Fish Hatchery in Roxbury withdrawals water from Flint Brook creating a potential impairment to aquatic biota. For this reason, ANR has typed this stream B3. This is a case where required minimum flows have not been established and maintained. VNRC believes the stream should be typed as B2 with minimum flows established to protect aquatic biota.

Blaisdell Brook: ANR types Blaisdell Brook as B3 because a commercial water bottling operation currently removes water from a spring that contributes water to the brook. This flow reduction has the potential to impair aquatic biota in the Brook. .  However, ANR’s own biomonitoring data indicates that less than one mile downstream of the water bottling withdrawal Blaisdell Brook meets B1 aquatic biota standards.  In this case ANR is proposing to lower the classification of the water before the actual water quality in the brook has been adversely affected by the existing commercial activity.  This is inconsistent with Vermont’s anti-degradation policy and ANR’s obligation to manage waters consistent with existing and obtainable water quality.