By Alyssa B. Schuren
The Vermont Clean Water Act has passed. The draft Lake Champlain cleanup plan has been released. The “all-in” message from the past two years remains and now resonates, with each sector beginning to roll up its sleeves to address phosphorus pollution that runs off our roads, farms, forests and developed lands, to achieve clean water results.
Municipalities are engaged in the early phase of clean water implementation. They manage the vast majority of Vermont roads, operate our wastewater treatment facilities, and own large swaths of developed lands. The Vermont Clean Water Act requirements are new and the costs are significant. Most municipalities enter the implementation process short-staffed and under-resourced. They are understandably nervous.
Fortunately, support is available. The Department of Environmental Conservation, the administration and the Vermont Legislature understand the clean water burden municipalities face and each has expressed a commitment to help municipalities achieve Vermont’s clean water goals.
The Department of Environmental Conservation recently launched a Municipal Clean Water Task Force, in partnership with the Agency of Transportation, Regional Planning Commissions and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. The Task Force exists to help communities assess their water infrastructure needs, to identify costs and potential project co-benefits, and to leverage the maximum amount of state and federal grants and loans possible.
Existing and new funding is available. Municipalities can access $60 million in the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which can be lent at zero or negative interest rates. Last session, the Vermont Legislature created the Clean Water Fund, projected to generate $5.2 million per year for three years, through a property transfer fee, while a long-term funding source is established. The first two years of revenue, $10.4 million, is currently being allocated, with $4.7 million currently earmarked as grants for municipalities.
It took decades for our waters to become polluted, evidenced by blue-green algae blooms on Lake Champlain last summer and excessive plant growth that chokes aquatic life in so many water bodies. It will take sustained efforts to return them to a cleaner, healthier state. We will get there by continuing to work together.
Our reward will be the enjoyment we get at our favorite swimming holes in the summer, the ability to teach our children to fish in our lakes and streams for decades to come, and the economic benefit of many millions of dollars spent by tourists enjoying Vermont’s waters each year.
Alyssa Schuren is the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. She lives in Montpelier.