The Agency of Natural Resources is launching a new initiative this week to control stormwater runoff, and the agency has a new approach to help cities and towns tackle the problem.
Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears says his agency’s new approach will focus on prevention and education.
"We have recognized that in Vermont many of our communities are relatively small," Mears told Vermont Edition. "They have select boards and practically volunteer city government and don’t have access to a lot of the resources that big cities do in terms of expertise and knowledge about some of these systems."
So Mears says the state will invest federal money to help communities around the state try some innovative ideas.
The U.S. Forest Service has given Vermont a $250,000 grant to provide technical assistance to towns, and to help them build ‘green infrastructure’ that prevents storm water runoff, rather than focusing money on clean up.
Mears says there’s an example in a downtown Montpelier parking lot. There are swales in the lot that are planted with trees, flowers and shrubs, which absorb and filter runoff.
"It can be technically complicated to do, but it’s relatively inexpensive to operate and maintain and it has multiple environmental benefits and it’s beautiful," Mears said.
Federal funding for such projects would go a long way in towns like Northfield, where officials are considering a proposed biomass plant and a plan to treat resulting wastewater – or in Isle La Motte, where town officials are seeking money for engineering services that might improve stormwater runoff.
Mears says there’s some tension between the state and towns about what exactly local government should do to prevent runoff, as the levels of federal and state grant dollars to help communities have dropped. "When you step back and look at the broader context of all the issues that municipalities are facing, like providing basic clean drinking water and treating the waste water, those are very substantial investments that communities have had to make," he said.
Funding may be tight, but Mears says that he’s confident small, community-based investments can add up and that the Agency of Natural Resources can work with any community hoping to improve the environment.