This bill proposes to improve the quality of waters in Vermont through authorizing proactive measures designed to implement and meet the impending total maximum daily load (TMDL) for Lake Champlain and other State waters. The bill is broad-reaching, impacting agricultural lands, the use value appraisal program, shorelands, commercial and industrial parcels in the Lake Champlain basin, the water quality basin planning process, and stormwater management.

The Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (“the Secretary”) will no longer be required to determine that sufficient financial assistance is available to assist farmers in achieving compliance with Best Management Practices (BMPs) before requiring farmers to implement BMPs on a case-by-case basis. The Secretary will be required to inform farmers of the resources available to assist farmer in implementing BMPs so farms comply with Vermont water quality standards.

The bill will require the Secretary to amend the existing Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs) by July 1, 2016 to enhance practices on farms to reduce adverse impacts to water quality, with numerous minimum requirements for the AAPs amendments included in the bill. The Secretary will also be required to amend the AAPs by January 15, 2018 to include requirements for reducing nutrient contribution to surface waters from subsurface agriculture tile drainage.

The bill will require the Secretary to implement a small farm certification and inspection program. The owner or operator of a small farm will be required to certify compliance with the AAPs at least once every five years. Nutrient management planning will be required for all certified small farms that manage agricultural wastes.

Custom applicators, people who apply manure, nutrients, or sludge to land and charge or collect other consideration for the service, will be required to be certified by the Secretary. Custom applicators will be required to complete eight hours of training over each five-year period to remain certified. An owner or operator of a farm applying manure, nutrients, or sludge to a field that they own or control will not need to be certified.

On or before January 15, 2016, the Secretary must submit a report to the Legislature regarding a potential requirement that owners of agricultural land certify compliance with the AAPs in order to participate or continue participation in the State’s use value appraisal program. The report would include, among other things, an estimate of how certification of compliance with the AAPs would impact the cost of the use value appraisal program to the State, including whether fewer parcels would qualify for enrollment in the program.

The bill also makes some changes to the water quality basin planning process. The annual report the Agency of Natural Resources makes to the Legislature will be required to include a schedule for the production of tactical basin plans in the subsequent calendar year and a summary of actions to be taken over the subsequent three years. In addition, the Agency will be authorized to contract with a regional planning commission to assist in or produce a basin plan.

The bill rewrites the legislation governing the State’s Stormwater Management Program.

The Agency of Natural Resources will be required to coordinate and assess all available data and science regarding the quality of the waters of the State; assess where additional data are needed and the best methods for data collection; identify and map on a regional basis areas of the State that are significant contributors to water quality problems or are in critical need of water quality remediation or response; and post all such compiled data on the Agency’s website.

A Clean Water Fund administered by a Clean Water Fund Board will be created to provide funding to programs and projects that address sources of water pollution in waters listed as impaired; to provide funding to projects that address water pollution identified as a critical source of water quality pollution; and to provide funding to programs/projects that address or repair riparian conditions that increase the risk of flooding or pose a threat to life or property. The Clean Water Fund Board will annually publish a Clean Water Investment Report summarizing all investments made by the Clean Water Fund Board and any other State expenditures for clean water restoration, regardless of funding source, over the past calendar year. The report will document progress or shortcomings in meeting established indicators for clean water restoration. It may also provide an overview of additional funding necessary to meet objectives established for clean water restoration and recommendations for additional revenue to meet those objectives.

A new Impervious Surface Assessment of $200.00 per calendar year will be imposed on each commercial and industrial parcel of land located within the Lake Champlain basin that contains any amount of impervious surface. This assessment will not apply to property used for farming or forestry.

The Agency of Natural Resources, in consultation with the Associated General Contractors of Vermont, will be required to develop an optional shoreland erosion control certification program. The program must include training related to the disturbance of soil, clearance of vegetation, and construction of impervious surfaces of more than 1,000 square feet in a shoreland area. This voluntary certification program will end after three years of operation. After two years of operation, the Agency will submit a report to the Legislature regarding the voluntary shoreland erosion control certification program including a general summary of the program’s success; an overview of shoreland projects constructed by certified persons; the number of persons certified under the certification program; a recommendation of whether the State should continue the voluntary certification program and whether to make the program mandatory; and any other recommendations for improving the program.

Status: Read for the first time on 1/21/15 and referred to the Committee on Fish, Wildlife & Water Resources. The Committee is currently taking testimony on this bill. Note that not all requirements included in this bill are summarized. It is anticipated that the content of the bill will change significantly after the Committee takes testimony.

Click here to read the current version of this bill.

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