The following is a commentary from FOVLAP President Pat Suozzi which has been recently published in newspapers and online.

Last year the Vermont Senate passed S.146, a bill relating to the permitting of indirect discharges. What does this mean? It will mean more protection for our lakes and ponds.

To protect Vermont’s high quality waters, those lakes that exceed the Vermont Water Quality Standards should be reclassified from B2 to A1 watersheds. A1 reclassification would better protect water quality, require earlier state interventions if phosphorus levels rise and enable priority access to funding for restoration.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has so far determined that at least twelve lakes — Caspian, Cole Pond (Jamaica), Coles Pond (Walden), Echo (Charleston), Maidstone, Newark, Raponda, Rescue, Seymour, Shadow, South Pond (Eden), Willoughby and Havey’s — are eligible for reclassification. Together these lakes represent over 50,000 acres of watershed that would be protected.

However, all work to protect these very special lakes and their watersheds has stalled because of an antiquated limitation on the design capacity of septic systems in the watersheds of Class A waters as cited in Vermont Statute 10 V.S.A. § 1259 (d). This statute is now functioning as a barrier to increasing protections for lakes through reclassification. Four of these lakes — Maidstone, Caspian, Echo and Shadow — have submitted petitions to be reclassified but these petitions, while fully reviewed and deemed administratively complete, have been on hold for well over two years due to this limitation.

The Federation and its member lake associations have been working in conjunction with local communities, watershed groups and the Department of Environmental Conservation staff for many years to institute best management practices to reduce runoff and prevent rising phosphorus levels. Much has been done but there is still more that needs to be done. Phosphorus levels continue to rise in many lakes, including some of our cleanest and most pristine lakes.

It may seem counterintuitive to say that very clean lakes would be better protected by removing a limitation on the size of septic systems in their watersheds. However, today with newer innovative alternative systems, the focus solely on capacity no longer makes sense. Properly managed, these newer septic systems can dramatically reduce the pollutants in wastewater before it enters the leaching field. Such systems, which can manage larger capacities, are cleaner, more efficient and would provide better protection to the state’s waters.

The current statutory limitation means that a community septic that could replace older, possibly failing, individual septic systems could not be installed — even if the total design flow of that community system was LOWER than the total of the individual systems.

For example in 2022, seven lakefront homes on Caspian Lake banded together and replaced their individual septic systems with a community system that was sited farther from the lake, uses newer technology, is cleaner and more efficient and cost the homeowners less than the cost to replace each individual system.

That high cost of replacing an individual septic is also a serious barrier to replacing older systems thus often leaving those older systems in place. However, lowering the cost by creating community septic would not be possible if these watersheds were reclassified to A1 under the current statute.

To remedy this situation and to better protect the state’s freshwater resources, the Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds is urging the Vermont House Committee on Environment and Energy to take this bill up and to make the statutory change this year. Our lakes and ponds are depending on it.