Stormwater discussion proves ‘Water Matters’

Photo by Madeline Hughes
Pollution in Lake Champlain due to stormwater runoff is a key issue facing Vermont. Communities are beginning to look ahead to reduce the impact of runoff from future development.

It’s better to plan ahead to avoid problems rather than solve them later, right? That’s what residents from Hinesburg and surrounding towns discussed recently at another Water Matters event.

This particular session – the fifth in a series of public forums – focused on preventative measures to ensure that Hinesburg doesn’t experience what other neighboring communities, such as Shelburne are facing – stormwater impairment.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation describes the issue: “As watersheds become more developed, the effects of stormwater runoff are being increasingly seen in our waters. Instead of infiltrating naturally into the soil, water quickly runs off of roofs and paved surfaces, picking up pollution and carrying it to waterways. Increased flows during storm events destabilize stream channels and put biological communities in jeopardy.”

Communities with impaired waterways are charged with making changes to their stormwater systems, and continuing efforts to clean up the water. These processes are long and expensive. Shelburne’s Munroe Brook cleanup is expected to cost millions over the next 40 years.

Stormwater mitigation is particularly challenging in more developed areas. “That’s not something dumping in the water, it’s changing hydrology,” said Roy Schiff, a civil engineering consultant for Milone & MacBroom. Schiff addressed a crowd of approximately three dozen people at the recent water forum that focused on stormwater runoff.

As plans for potential new development projects come together in Hinesburg, updates to planning and zoning regulations will take some steps toward addressing stormwater and its impacts.

Alex Weinhagen, Hinesburg’s director of planning and zoning, attended the event and was pleased with what he heard. “We’ve done some work in the last few years that put us ahead of the curve,” he said, adding though that there was still more to do.

Weinhagen said he hopes the Planning Commission uses information from the Water Matter series as it works on downtown zoning regulations.

In 2015, the town revised stormwater regulations for zoning, control and treatment. They called for a stricter requirement than the state in addressing storm runoff.

The state requires for new development of at least one acre – 43,560 square feet – that there be a plan to address stormwater. Hinesburg’s regulations now are stricter, setting the threshold at 10,000 square feet as the development size that triggers the need for a plan.

“It was a way for us to capture the smaller development and ensure it meets state standards,” Weinhagen said. “We are holding developers to a higher standard without landowners (who aren’t doing the building) footing the bill.”

Town residents were happy to learn about the different regulations that seek to make developers more responsible for addressing stormwater issues. But the problem also comes down to everyday things already in place that create runoff.

“We all have an impact on runoff with lakes and streams,” Weinhagen said. That’s why the town works with local organizations like the Lewis Creek Association, Lake Iroquois Association, South Chittenden River Watch and others to write grants and do outreach, like the Water Matters series.
“It’s small groups that can make a difference,” Weinhagen said.

Volunteers from each of those groups gather water samples. They then measure the water samples by time, how high the water was, and other factors to keep an eye on the health of the water. At the events volunteers from these organizations have been sharing data and stories from projects they have worked on to clean up the watershed.

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