The secretary of natural resources would be required to submit a report to the general assembly pertaining to the water quality of Vermont lakes, ponds, and rivers no later than December 15, 2012. The report would detail current problems with water quality, figure out how to address these problems, and detail a plan to pay for improving the quality of state waters.

The bill would also transfer the rulemaking authority of the water resources panel of the natural resources board to the Agency of Natural Resources.

All waters of the state are at risk of pollution or impairment.  For example, Lake Champlain is impaired due to phosphorus pollution that exceeds the Vermont water quality standards. In total there are more than 100 lakes and river segments that are considered to be impaired throughout Vermont. Our lakes, ponds, and rivers are further compromised because of last year’s flooding. Under state and federal law, the state is required to prevent impairment or degradation of its waters.

One possible strategy for generating the funding needed to protect and restore the waters of the state would be to develop a statewide mechanism, such as a statewide “clean water utility,” to raise revenue, address regulatory demands and to prioritize the most critical water quality projects throughout the state so our waters are protected in the most cost-effective way. Another consideration is whether the utility should be run by an existing agency of state government such as ANR or the Natural Resources Board, or an independent, nongovernmental organization (using a model similar to that employed by Efficiency Vermont). If the clean water utility is to be administered by an independent, nongovernmental organization, the report needs to address how will this organization should be established and administered. One last possibility is that water quality programs could be effectively implemented through regional water quality utilities or similar mechanisms already authorized under 24 V.S.A. chapters 105 and 121.

Options for generating the revenue include implementing a statewide assessment or fee, such as a clean water utility fee, an impervious surface fee, a Clean Water Act certification fee, impact fees, or other fees or charges.

The report would answer questions like: How should water quality funds be allocated?  Should high risk of pollution in impaired, unimpaired, or high quality waters be the most important consideration?  How to ensure equity in the distribution of water quality funds throughout the state?

The report would also address a broad suite of questions about the on-going implementation of a number of water quality programs.  These include: How will regulation of agricultural runoff and application of water quality standards to agricultural operations be implemented?  Should there be additional requirements, standards, technical assistance, or financial assistance to increase compliance with the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs)?  Should AAPs should be amended to require all small farms to apply nutrients according to a nutrient management plan or at a more stringent soil loss tolerance than is currently required? How should regulation of stormwater runoff be managed and enforced in order to meet the Vermont water quality standards? How should the state work toward the restoration and protection of shorelands of lakes?   Should the state regulate development in shorelands of lakes?  What would be an appropriate process and cost for developing site-specific implementation plans to reduce discharges from areas with high potential for the release, discharge, or runoff of nutrients or pollutants, so called “critical source areas”?

March 22, 2012: We will keep you posted on how this bill changes as it goes through the committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources.  As of March 22, 2012, the bill has been placed on the Calender for Notice on March 20, 2012.  A third reading was ordered March 22, 2012.

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