Panel makes progress on stormwater research

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(Host) A state panel reports some progress in trying to break a regulatory impasse over stormwater pollution. Last summer, the Water Resources Board brought all sides together to try to apply the best science to the problem. The work is not yet finished, but participants are hopeful a solution is in sight. They’ve started by agreeing how to measure stormwater pollution.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Last June, the Water Resources Board sent shockwaves through the business community when it rejected the state’s approach to fixing pollution in four streams in Chittenden County. The decision said the permits would not do enough to clean up the streams within five years. The ruling pleased environmentalists but it left some business deals in legal limbo.

But stormwater isn’t just a regulatory issue. It describes a cocktail of pollution that comes from many different places in a watershed. Faced with that challenge, the board launched a broad investigation into the science behind stormwater regulation. John Groveman, the board’s executive director, says real progress is being made.

(Groveman) “We’re really getting close to agreeing on: Okay, how to look at what’s going on out there? How do we quantify that? And the next step is to really correlate those to actions. And that’s what I think the big breakthrough was.”

(Dillon) University of Vermont Professor Mary Watzin has been advising the group. She says the panel agrees that the best way to monitor stormwater pollution is to look at stream sediment and changes in water volume.

(Watzin) “Managing water and sediment are the place to start. As the water moves and as the sediment moves that’s how the pollution moves. That’s what’s really changing these streams, impairing the streams. So let’s focus first on those two things. If we can deal with those, we’ve really tackled the lion’s share of the problems.”

(Dillon) Both the Legislature and the state Agency of Natural Resources want guidance from the stormwater group. And business groups want more clarity in the regulations. But Representative Margaret Hummel, a Democrat from Underhill, warned about acting too quickly under pressure.

(Hummel) “My main fear is about being pressured to do the wrong this as a short term solution because of the exigencies of people applying for permits next month and hoping to break ground by May. And that’s a big pressure.”

(Dillon) Environmentalists at the meeting said the best thing the Legislature could do is appropriate money for additional work on stream monitoring and protection. The Water Resources Board hopes to have an interim report for the Legislature when it convenes in January.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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