Water Policy Update – March 24, 2014

Water Policy Update – March 24, 2014


The following is an update on water related policy issues in Vermont prepared by VNRC. For more information, please email Kim Greenwood, VNRC’s water program director, or call her at 223-2328 x119.



Several bills are under discussion in the Legislature at this time. Below is a rundown.

Shorelands: This legislation, H.526, creates a regulatory program for development on the shores of lakes. The House passed it in 2013 and during the summer, a commission of House members and Senators held a series of public meetings on the bill throughout the state. This year the bill was taken up by the Senate, which modified it and then passed it. The bill is currently in a House-Senate conference committee that will hammer out the differences between the two versions of the bill.  The final version would then head to the Governor’s desk. http://www.leg.state.vt.us/database/status/summary.cfm?Bill=H.0526&

Lake Champlain: Under discussion is H.586, directed more specifically at cleaning up Lake Champlain. The House Fish Wildlife and Water Resources Committee has passed the bill, but it has not been considered by the full House yet. A recent version of the bill has contained provisions to stem the flow of water pollution from farms and raise some taxes to fund stormwater cleanup. The future of the bill, H.586, remains uncertain. If it passes the House, it will still need to pass the full Senate.  http://www2.leg.state.vt.us/legdir/committeeinfo.cfm?CommitteeID=193&Folder=House%20Fish%20and%20Wildlife/Bills&Sort=Bill

Dams: A bill requiring the inspection of dams is moving. Passed by the House Fish, Water and Wildlife committee, and likely soon the House Ways and Means Committee, H.590 requires property owners with dams on their land to register, and inspect, those dams. The bill also requires that when property is transferred and there is a dam on the property, the seller notify the buyer of the existence of the dam. An inspection of the dam would also be required at the time of sale. The bill needs to pass the full House, and then it will move to the Senate for consideration.  Follow the bill here:  http://www.leg.state.vt.us/database/status/summary.cfm?Bill=H.0590&

Groundwater Withdrawal: A bill that would ban withdrawal of groundwater that is to be bottled for sale and also assess a royalty on other types of groundwater withdrawals got a brief hearing in the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee several weeks ago.  The bill, H.800, would direct the funds raised by the royalty into a fund to help map Vermont’s groundwater. In 2008, the Vermont legislature designated groundwater to be a public trust resource and set up a permitting system for large-scale groundwater withdrawals, and this bill builds on that legislation. It’s doubtful the bill will move this year, but there appears to be increasing interest among some lawmakers to continue to assure Vermont’s groundwater is protected for public use, given droughts in other parts of the country. http://www.leg.state.vt.us/database/status/summary.cfm?Bill=H.0800&Session=2014


Draft rules and Permits

Besides legislation, there is administrative action including administrative rules and general permits related to water quality that are under development. Rules and general permits detail how a given law is implemented.

Construction General Permit for Stormwater: Currently, the Construction General Permit for stormwater runoff from construction sites is being updated.  We expect the permit to be issued within the next few weeks.

River-Related Rules: A number of new rules and permits are in motion for the Rivers program at ANR.  Among them is a draft general permit for stream alterations. This general permit provides for the authorization of activities that may change, alter, or modify the course, current, or cross section of any watercourse within or along the boundaries of Vermont either by movement, fill, or by excavation of ten cubic yards or more in any year. The general permit implements the new Stream Alteration Rules (effective 12-23-2013) which require the ANR to authorize emergency protective measures undertaken by municipalities to address imminent threats to life or threats of severe damage to property immediately following floods. There is a public meeting on the draft general permit on Wednesday, April 2, from 6 to 8 pm in the Winooski Conference Room at the National Life Building (1 National Life Dr.) in Montpelier. Read the draft permit here: http://www.vtwaterquality.org/rivers/docs/2014_DRAFT_SA_GeneralPermit.pdf

Underground Injection Control Rule: The Underground Injection Control rule, which regulates discharges to groundwater, is out for public comment.  The UIC Program, mandated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, protects groundwater and human health, by prohibiting certain types of discharges to groundwater and requiring permits for other discharges to injection wells. Vermont’s definition of an injection well is very broad and could result in a program that would regulate low risk discharges from residential foundation drains, roadside ditches and other holes in the ground. To avoid regulation, the revised rules will only regulate activities that pose a moderate or high risk to groundwater. Major additions to the amended rules include technical standards, detailed application requirements, and permitting exemptions.  There are two public hearings on the draft rule:  one April 7 at 6:30 PM at the Pavilion Auditorium, 109 State Street in Montpelier and one April 21 at 6:45 PM at the Rutland Free Library, 10 Court Street in Rutland. Read the proposed rule here:  https://secure.vermont.gov/SOS/rules/display.php?r=226

Floodplain Rule: A draft state floodplain rule required by Act 138 (2012) to cover activities exempt from municipal regulation is under consideration. ANR will begin formal rulemaking process by May or June.  For more information contact Rob Evans, DEC Watershed Management Division at rob.evans@state.vt.us


Additional Developments

Proposed changes to the Vermont Water Quality Standards: The Agency of Natural Resources is obligated to periodically (and at least every three years) revisit the state’s Water Quality Standards and update them.  This process is underway with comments being accepted on changes to the E. coli, nutrient and toxics criteria in Appendix C.  For more information on the proposed changes, visit:  http://www.vtwaterquality.org/rulemaking/htm/rules.htm.

Lake Champlain TMDL update: ANR and EPA are in the process of developing a new TMDL and implementation plan for the Lake Champlain basin. In essence, EPA has stated in its response letters (find them here:  http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/erp/champlain/) that ANR’s plan isn’t specific enough to ensure that Lake Champlain will be cleaned up.  Read what ANR is proposing here: http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/erp/champlain/docs/2013-11-20_DRAFT_Proposal_for_a_Clean_Lake_Champlain.pdf#zoom=100

EPA is expected to approve the final restoration plan in the summer of 2014.

Vermont Stormwater Manual Update: An update to the 2002 Stormwater Manual that dictates engineering standards from operational stormwater is underway.   Since the manual hasn’t been revised in almost a decade, engaging in this process is an investment in ensuring that robust standards are in place.  Read more about the process here: http://www.vtwaterquality.org/stormwater/htm/sw_manualrevision.htm