By Stephen Seitz
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has adopted a new plan to improve water quality and aquatic habitat in a number of central Vermont watersheds, as well as tributaries emptying into the Connecticut River.
The area is known as Basin 14, and it covers central Vermont through Orange, Caledonia, Washington, and Windsor Counties. Basin 14 includes the Stevens, Wells, Waits, and Ompompanoosuc river watersheds, as well as the tributaries.
Kevin Geiger, a senior planner for the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, said the goal was to identify and remedy water quality problems. Many of the problems are related to roads, he said.
“A lot of that has to do with improving culverts,” Geiger said. “Not only does it help roads, it provides better fish passage through the culverts.”
According to the plan, the chief problems for water quality in this area include “encroachments, channel erosion, invasive species, land erosion, pathogens, toxins, nutrient loading, thermal stress, acidity, and flow alteration.”
The plan calls for monitoring the water for excessive nitrogen or phosphorus, assessing the role of agriculture, taking an inventory of road erosion and the capital budgets for all the towns in the basin, and holding workshops on water quality practices.
Because so many agencies are involved in the plan, Geiger said, there isn’t any central funding to accomplish the goals.
While the plan calls for monitoring nitrogen and phosphorus (called “nutrient loading” in bureaucratic jargon), Geiger said it’s not this area’s biggest problem. In the Lake Champlain area, phosphorus runoff from farms is causing a great number of the lake’s problems.
“We don’t have that kind of concern,” he said. “It’s not a major issue.”
The plan, he said, is required by law. The Agency of Natural Resources collaborated with state and federal agencies, regional planning commissions, watershed organizations, and concerned citizens to develop the plan. “Each plan expires every five years,” Geiger said, adding that the requirement was in place since the 1990s.
The plan for the Waits River watershed includes: planting vegetation buffers near streams to protect them from the consequences of land use; improving fish habitat; taking care of the superfund site at the Pike Hill mine; and improving the flow at the Bradford Dam, among other things.
The plan outlines similar measures for the tributaries, including buffer inventory on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River corridor and expanding the Roy Mountain Wildlife Management Area to include the wetlands and ecosystems around Symes Pond.
“Nine high-priority river corridor project reaches have been identified,” according to the plan. “Two high-priority culverts have been targeted for replacement/removal/retrofit” due to being out of compliance with existing codes. Geiger said that the Clean Water Act originally required that all U.S. waters should have been in full compliance by 1983.
“We’re still working on that,” he said. “Vermont has some top quality waters, and we’ve got to keep them relatively pristine.”