The LaPlatte Watershed: Why it Matters

A LaPlatte Watershed study showed that most of the waters are in moderate to poor conditions. Local residents met to listen to a panel of experts and discuss the importance of water health. Courtesy photo
A LaPlatte Watershed study showed that most of the waters are in moderate to poor conditions. Local residents met to listen to a panel of experts and discuss the importance of water health. Courtesy photo

Roberta Nubile

Water matters. This is an obvious statement to anyone who values drinking clean water from the lake and private wells, swimming at our beaches, paddling, and fishing for river and lake trout.

This was also the message of a timely presentation organized by Lewis Creek Association (LCA), Responsible Growth Hinesburg, Voices for the Lake and others last week that had Hinesburg Town Hall nearly filled to capacity with people concerned about the current state of water in this region. Shelburne, Charlotte, and Hinesburg all have stewardship of the Laplatte Watershed, with brooks, streams and rivers all heading downstream to Lake Champlain.

The purpose of the event, according to Marty Ilick, executive director of LCA and moderator for the panel of experts, was to promote collaboration and prevention management for the health of our shared watersheds. As Ilick says, “We are rich with data about our local streams; now we need citizens to learn about their local conditions and become involved.”

The panel, comprised of hydrogeologists, engineers, and town planners from Colchester and South Burlington (who work for already stormwater-impaired towns and have implemented costly measures to correct this), fielded questions that addressed how well we are protecting our watersheds, current regulatory review, and what each town can do to ensure clean water flows through their towns to the lake.

Unveiled at the meeting was a new at a glance summary tracking map which gives a report card overview of all the water sampling data results since 2004, as well as a list of specific local project improvements for Shelburne, Charlotte and Hinesburg.

What affects water health?

Phosphorus pollution is the greatest threat to Lake Champlain, according to the state of Vermont’s 2015 Phosphorous TMDL Phase I Implementation Plan, as it increases the presence of algae. Phosphorous loading to the lake comes from runoff, erosion, wastewater, and stormwater. Each of the 12 Vermont segments of the lake is given a pollution budget, or total maximum daily load (TMDL) of phosphorous. The LaPLatte region must reduce its phosphorus load from 12.8 to 8.9 metric tons per year.

How well are we doing?

Though much has been done since lake water quality was first examined in the early 2000’s at the state and town levels, progress is slow going, and we are not there yet. Our streams and rivers are considered unstable as evidenced by results of thousands of water samples collected by volunteer teams since 2004 and tested for phosphorus, solids and chloride, among others.

A quick look at the colored map of the Laplatte Watershed shows us that most of our water resources are in poor to moderate condition. Quite simply, we can’t get the lake clean until the water that flows to is maintained better.

Illick and others on the panel reinforced the notion that it is the incremental damage that we have most control over, and that state and federal regulations do not address water quality in a meaningful way. That is why, Illick said, “We often find ourselves reacting to large water problems, versus be in a position of less costly proactive investments.”

What can each homeowner, business owner and town do?

Regarding the rate of stormwater water flowing through land toward culverts and ultimately the lake, through use of rain gardens, rain barrels and even shallow dips in driveways, “slower is better,” said Tony Stout, a senior planner with Lakeside Environmental group, former Act 250 coordinator and panel expert. Per Act 64, Vermont’s clean water act, towns will need to reduce use of road salt and farmers will have tighter regulations on agricultural waste.

Attendees of the event were encouraged to attend a follow-up evening at a free showing of the film, “What’s your Watermark” on Thursday, April 7 at the Carpenter-Carse Library in Hinesburg at 7pm.

For more information, program summary proceedings, and opportunities to become involved, visit:
https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/vt-lake-champlain-tmdl-phase1-ip.pdf
http://www.lewiscreek.org/laplatte-region-surface-water-conditions-project-improvement-list
http://www.lewiscreek.org/
http://smartwaterways.org/
http://www.vtwaterquality.org/stormwater/docs/sw_LID%20Guide.pdf