Water Resources Board looks at science of stormwater

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(Host) The Vermont Water Resources Board wants to tackle some of the difficult issues around stormwater pollution. The board on Tuesday decided to help break an impasse over stormwater clean up plans in Vermont’s urban areas.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Water Resources Board is a five-member panel that oversees the state’s water quality standards and hears appeals of state water pollution permits.

Earlier this summer, the board rejected the Agency of Natural Resource’s approach to fixing stormwater pollution in four streams in Chittenden County. The board said the agency’s plans would not do enough to clean up the streams within the five years that the law requires. The agency and Governor Jim Douglas argue that it’s scientifically impossible to meet the law’s five year timeframe. So they plan to go to the Legislature to lift the deadline.

Now the Water Resources Board wants to get involved. David Blythe is the board chairman:

(Blythe) “The board, at least in my tenure, has not exercised its authority to open on its own initiative an investigative docket, which the rules contemplate.”

(Dillon) The panel has decided to investigate some fundamental, but very difficult questions. For example, the board will study whether it’s scientifically feasible to develop watershed clean up plans that comply with the law and its deadlines.

John Groveman, the board’s executive officer, says the idea is to get away from the legal arguments.

(Groveman) “The issue here is to have a technical discussion about the technical obstacles and possibilities of cleaning up these waters. Not the legal positions that everybody has about what is required under state or federal law, but technically what can be done to clean up these waters? To sort of open people’s minds on all sides of this issue and ideally come up with a solution.”

(Dillon) Some participants drew parallels to negotiations sponsored by the Agency of Natural Resources in the mid-1990s. Those talks resolved years of litigation over how ski areas could use streams for snowmaking. Jeffrey Nelson, a hydrologist, worked for the ski areas at the time. He says the snowmaking issue also had complex legal and scientific arguments.

(Nelson) “But I think that the three primary parties that were involved in that were the ski areas, ANR, and the environmental groups all felt that there was an opportunity for a process that could work. And ultimately it did work.”

(Dillon) Nelson supports the Water Resources Board’s plan. So do environmentalists. The board will meet again later this month to work out more details of its stormwater investigation.

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

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