BURLINGTON -- The state of Vermont wants residents and communities to try new techniques to control stormwater pollution that can carry pollutants from driveways, parking lots and roads, the small but widespread sources of pollution that have bedeviled efforts to clean up Lake Champlain and other waterways.
Rather than large plants to treat stormwater, the state’s Green Infrastructure Initiative suggests a variety of localized projects that could, for example, allow rainwater to seep into the ground instead of flowing into rivers and streams. The local practices and small pollution control techniques would complement the traditional methods, such as sewage treatment plants.
"To be successful in getting these nutrients out of our water bodies, we all need to participate in some way," Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz said Wednesday after formally introducing the idea at a conference of public works employees and environmental engineers in Burlington.
"It means being mindful about washing the car in the street and sending oil and chemicals right into the ditch ... And thinking about how we’re managing our own properties," she said.
The state has received a $245,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to offer technical and financial help to municipalities that use "green" infrastructure. While the Lake Champlain basin has received much of the attention, the same issue affects the rest of Vermont’s waterways, she said.
The initiative hopes to get more people involved in small ways that, taken together, would reduce pollution. The systems mimic natural processes that purify stormwater, reduce the amount and slow down the flow so that it seeps into the ground rather than runs into ditches and brooks that ultimately wash pollution into rivers, lakes and ponds.
Among the possibilities are "rain gardens," usually depressions filled with native plants to catch, and treat, runoff from impervious surfaces, like parking lots. Another is green roofs, in which vegetation is planted on the tops of buildings.
The initiative began earlier this year when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed an executive order to require all state agencies to manage stormwater runoff. The techniques also could help reduce future flood damage by slowing the flow of water into rivers and streams, conserve energy and improve air quality.
Many of the practices are already in use across the state.
"We’re hoping to raise the profile of this issue overall. It’s not a sexy issue, but it’s important because it means will our kids be able to swim in Lake Champlain or not," Markowitz said.
Despite decades of work to reduce phosphorus-laden runoff in Lake Champlain, Vermont has not made much progress in cleaning up the lake. Part of the problem is controlling localized pollution, often called non-point source pollution, such as runoff from farm fields, roads, parking lots, and driveways.