When it rains…it pours:
The effects of stormwater in Milton and the stormwater management program
written by Shannon Gunderson
Published on Mar 22, 2023
Nothing says spring more than a fresh rainfall, and the lovely flowers that bloom because of it.
But that fresh rainfall can be synonymous with sadness and destruction; and for good reason.
Those millions of gallons of water that fall from the sky need to go somewhere, and not all of it will soak into the soil below our feet. The water that rolls off your car, roof, yard and down the street is called stormwater runoff. Trash, dirt, and other pollutants that are picked up by the runoff can cause significant damage to the ecosystem it surrounds.
Now, this damage is affecting the state of Vermont, and locally, the town of Milton.
The effects of stormwater where we live
Dr. Kent Henderson, chair of the nonprofit Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC), spoke with the Independent on why it is so important to take action now. The FNLC has been working for 20 years around the northern arm of Lake Champlain, starting when blue green algae was blooming in Missisquoi Bay.
“Why is stormwater harmful?” he said, “Well, the thing that people think of right away is the collection of pollutants, be it chemical or organic. But many of the pollutants are actually essential minerals for life, and one of those is phosphorus.”
Phosphorus is a mineral that is necessary for human and animal life, Henderson explained. Naturally, Lake Champlain can handle a certain amount of phosphorus pollution; but he said with the effects of climate change, there's too much that is running off right now.
Excessive amounts of phosphorus in a body of water can cause an explosive growth of aquatic plants and algae, more specifically blue green algae in Lake Champlain. This can lead to a variety of water quality problems, including low dissolved oxygen concentrations, which can kill fish and harm other aquatic life.
The FNLC and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are seeking ways to get the stormwater to infiltrate in the soil, which can act as a natural filter, Henderson said.
In an effort to reduce the effects of stormwater runoff, the DEC and State of Vermont are now enforcing statewide regulations. In response to these regulations, the town of Milton has created a stormwater management program.
Milton’s stormwater management program
Part of Milton's new program is implementing a stormwater utility, operating much like an electric or water utility. This is the collection of resident fees related to the control and treatment of stormwater that will be used to fund the stormwater management program.
“We all want clean water,” Town Manager Don Turner said. “Vermont, and the Town of Milton value where we live; the aesthetics, beauty and overall quality of life. We do want public input, and as we work on this plan we want to come up with a fair price to see the project through.”
Turner said funding for the Stormwater Management Program comes from the general fund budget and capital improvement budget. The Town of Milton has also received grants for this program.
“We have been very fortunate to receive thousands of dollars in grant money from the State of Vermont to make these improvements,” Turner said.
Public works director Lisa Schaeffler said the town does not currently know what the exact budget for the project is.
“Once we are closer to implementing a stormwater utility, we will have an exact number for our budget to complete the program,” Schaeffler said. "Rules and regulations are changing constantly. As we work to develop utilities, we are looking into what is working in the communities around us. We are evolving our plan as stormwater continues to be studied.”
Milton has already begun to implement stormwater basins, otherwise known as “ditching,” to minimize a direct streamline of stormwater into the lake. The town also recently bought a street sweeper, which cleans debris from the streets. This reduces the amount of pollutants stormwater collects as it streams into a body of water.
While the town, DEC and local non-profits work to reduce the harmful effects of stormwater, it should be known that community members can also do their part to reduce pollutants in their environment.
How community members can make a difference
“The shoreline is actually privately-owned in over 80% of the total shoreline in the state,” Henderson said. “So that puts a lot of the responsibility on private landowners. We [FNLC] have educational events, opportunities and sources for private landowners to use on their own property. It's as simple as putting up a rain barrel to collect water from your roof that can be distributed on your flower and vegetable gardens.”
Some things community members can do in everyday life to reduce their carbon footprint and lessen the impact of stormwater are:
How to reduce your stormwater impact
Cleaning up waste from your pets.
Wash your car more frequently in the winter, reducing the amount of salt coming off your vehicle.
Create a rain garden on your property.
Participate in the adoptive drain program.
Wash your car on your lawn, instead of driveway, allowing the soil to absorb the excess water.
“And I will admit that little contribution is not going to save the lake. But you know if even half the people in town make changes, it's gonna add up. Definitely, it's gonna add up,” Henderson said.
Effective stormwater management provides environmental, social and economic benefits to communities. When done well, stormwater management can reduce flood risk; streams, rivers and lakes are cleaner; and community quality of life increases.
“I want to encourage public involvement as we work on this program. We need support. We need people to ask questions,” Turner said. “Call our offices, attend selectboard meetings and go to events where the stormwater management program is being discussed. Transparency is important, and we can be transparent through public involvement and education.”
Right now, one of the biggest risks the Town of Milton faces with stormwater damage, is the potential impairment of Allen Brook. According to the DEC, an impaired stream is one that fails to meet Vermont’s Water Quality Standards.
“We are doing everything we can to prevent that from happening,” Turner said. “That is why we want to encourage everyone to do their part to reduce their impact.”
The Town of Milton created their own rain garden on municipal property to lead by example.
“It serves a great purpose!” Turner said.
For those interested in learning more about the effects of stormwater where you live, and what can be done to reduce the damage; the FNLC invites you to join them at their Rain Garden Planning and Stormwater Infrastructure Walk.
Rain Garden Planning and Stormwater Infrastructure Walk
Learn how to design a rain garden to catch stormwater and improve soil retention on your property!
WHEN: March 23, 2023, 6-7:30PM
WHERE: St. Albans Council Chamber or via Zoom Meeting
100 N Main St. Saint Albans City, VT 05478
You can register on the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain Facebook page or website.