When was the last time you thought about stormwater and its impact on water quality? The last major storm? Maybe not at all?
That’s okay; it’s not often something we consider when thinking of water quality. Typically, we believe farming practices like the following are the major contributors.
- Spreading of manure
- Faulty lakeside septic systems
- Municipal wastewater treatment facilities
But, pollution from developed lands makes up almost 20% of the phosphorus pollution in the lake. Reducing polluted water is an essential way to lessen the total pollution entering Lake Champlain.
First, we want to talk about what it is, and then we’ll share with you some of the methods and best practices for managing it.
What is Stormwater?
Stormwater originates from significant rain events, typical rainfall, or snowmelt that travels over land before absorbing into the ground or running into surface waters.
When water falls on developed areas like roads, buildings, and parking lots (impervious areas) instead of vegetated, undeveloped land, it is concentrated and begins to flow faster. The increased water flow can be intensified by traditional water infrastructure that collects and transports the water to locations where it is discharged into surface waters without treatment.
When it is discharged into surface waters without treatment, it can carry trash, oil, animal waste, fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals, salt, and sediment.
Common traditional water systems include:
- Storm drains
- Catch basins
If the water is directed into a sewage line, significant rainfall events can overwhelm local infrastructure and cause sewage overflows into Lake Champlain. The image below is of Missisquoi Bay and the stormwater overflow from waterways leading into the lake on October 31, 2019 during the massive rainstorm.
Green Stormwater Infrastructure to the Rescue
Recently, with the new information about the problems stormwater can create, redesigned systems and practices were established.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) tells us that Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) is used to “restore and maintain natural hydrologic processes to reduce the volume and water quality impacts of stormwater runoff.”
- Reduced and delayed flows
- Enhanced groundwater recharge
- Stormwater pollutant reductions
- Reduced sewer overflows
- Urban heat island mitigation
- Improved air quality
- Additional wildlife habitat and recreational space
- Improved human health
- Increased land values
All types of landowners throughout Vermont are currently implementing these projects. GSI is needed right now. It is necessary because there are fewer dairy farms, less rural land use, and increased significant rain events.
According to UVM Extension, the Northeast has seen a 71% increase in precipitation from significant rain events since the mid-1990s. With the rise in significant rain events, we will experience increased pollution into our waterways via stormwater.
Since the Northeast has experienced such an increase over twenty or so years, we see GSI projects as a valuable tool in managing runoff in multiple ways.
How You Can Help
You can help reduce stormwater pollution from entering the Lake, let’s talk about that. Believe it or not, every person can decrease pollutants entering our waterways – some you may already do.
Eliminate Ground Fertilizers
Stormwater runoff can carry contaminates from ground fertilizers, yes, the kind you add to your lawn, which will ultimately wash into waterways and Lake Champlain.
It is against Vermont State Law to use lawn fertilizer containing phosphorus unless you’ve completed a soil test demonstrating phosphorous deficiency? Ensure that you need to add fertilizer before doing so and do not apply before a forecasted rain event.
Pet waste contains a myriad of pollution problems, the main ones being excess nutrients, bacteria, and pathogens that can find its way into local waterways.
On April 1st, we collaborate with Lake Champlain Committee and Franklin County Stormwater Collaborative to pick up pet waste around St. Albans City and Town, we call this April Stools Day! You can join us, follow our FB page for event notices, or pick up your pet’s poo regularly.
Proper Disposal of Toxic Chemicals
Properly disposing of used automotive fluid is another step you can take to reduce water pollution. Contact your local transfer station or waste management facility to find out how you can discard used vehicle fluids. Maintain your vehicle and never dump anything down a storm drain.
Compost Food and Yard Waste
Consider composting to reduce yard waste from grass clippings and keep your lawn mowed at three inches or higher. The longer grass blades deflect direct raindrop erosion of bare soil, very similar to the effect when farms plant cover crops in the fall to cover bare ground. The grass clippings are also a source of phosphorus for Lake Champlain if it can travel into a storm drain or other surface water.
Reduce Your Lawn
Lawns require a lot of care and upkeep with resources that could be conserved. You could plant native trees, flowers, and shrubs that do not require fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.
Take Care of Your Stormwater
Watch your property during a rainstorm, is your water traveling into a nearby storm drain or ditch? Do you know where it goes after that? Building a rain garden or using a rain barrel can save about 1,000 gallons of water per year from becoming damaging stormwater.
Properly recycle your trash, get out there on Green Up Day, and pick up garbage along streets, sidewalks, ditches, and beaches. You can do this anytime you take a walk, even bring the kids along and demonstrate the importance of cleaning up after themselves and others.
Common Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Stormwater Management Nearest Impervious Areas
Excess nutrients and stormwater have inundated our lakes and rivers complex ecological systems over the years. The impact is why, working with landowners and farmers, we can mitigate the effects by using Best Management Practices (BMPs).
Rain Gardens and Rain Barrels
Rain gardens are one approach to managing stormwater. We’ve had the pleasure of installing or repairing several rain gardens within Franklin County to help manage the impact. These work by absorbing polluted water in the rain gardens and then filtering it through the soil and rock, which treats the water before entering the local ecosystem.
Rain barrels collect water from rooftops before it enters the ground, and then is stored and used later for a variety of tasks like watering gardens, potted plants, lawns, and washing cars and exterior features.
Gravel Wetlands are effective because of the ability to use microbiological means for removing nitrogen and phosphorus. They also reduce sedimentation by physically filtering the polluted water before it reaches waterways, much like a natural wetland. These require less maintenance than rain gardens, but similarly, the nutrient removal efficiency increases as plantings establish.
Swales, not the kind you find on the golf course (a nod to our board chair, Kent Henderson), are land features that gently redirect water flows to slow it down and allow for the evaporation and filtering of pollutants before entering waterways. You are more likely to find this method in use in residential areas with sloping ground cover.
Stormwater Mitigation Resources
Regardless of the type of landowner you are, there are various methods and financial supports out there to help. You can reach out to us, or various state and federal agencies to find assistance and resources.
Now that you know what stormwater is, where it comes from, methods and BMPs to alleviate the polluted water from entering the lake and what you can do about it, tell us and share with us what you are doing to reduce pollution entering Lake Champlain, and tell your neighbors and friends. Together we can spread the message, the knowledge, and the practices to ensure the legacy of our lake.