Water Quality Concerns
There are a number of pollutants of concern in waterways across Vermont. Learn more about these below.
Phosphorus is one of the primary water quality challenges in Lake Champlain. Found in lawn fertilizers, manure, human and animal waste, riverbank soils, and stormwater runoff, phosphorus causes algal blooms and excessive aquatic plant growth. When there is too much phosphorus in the water, certain plants or algae can dominate the ecosystem and choke out other species. Excessive nutrients can cause cyanobacteria blooms, also known as blue-green algae, and can be harmful to aquatic species, other animals, and humans.
The Lake Champlain Long-Term Monitoring Project has performed phosphorus testing in Lake Champlain from April through October since 1992. Scientists collect water samples from Malletts Bay and other areas that are analyzed for levels of phosphorus as well as nitrogen, chloride, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and other parameters. This work has informed the development of phosphorus reduction requirements that must be met to restore the health of the Lake, which are broken down into four categories: Agriculture, Wastewater Treatment Plants, Natural Resources, and Urban Development. Each of these sectors is managed by different groups, with the Town of Colchester responsible for addressing phosphorus loading to the lake that occurs as a result of urban development (roadways, parking areas, and other impervious surfaces).
Urban development has been found to be the source of 16% of the phosphorus entering Lake Champlain. All communities in Vermont must comply with Municipal General Roads Permit requirements, which oversee construction and maintenance of roadway drainage networks. More densely populated communities who also have federal stormwater permits (like Colchester) must also develop a Phosphorus Control Plan that will identify additional ways we can reduce our nutrient loading to the Lake from roadways and other impervious surfaces. This Plan is currently in development, funded through an Agency of Transportation planning grant, and is expected to be complete by the end of 2020. Along with program and policy updates, the Plan will require the construction of stormwater best management practices like gravel wetlands, bioretention areas, and other installations that will filter runoff to remove pollutants before runoff reaches the Lake. Click on the image below to learn more about phosphorus in Lake Champlain.
Bacteria - specifically E.coli - is another pollutant of concern in Vermont and in Colchester. This bacteria lives in the intestines of people and animals and can cause health problems for those who inadvertently swallow water that contains it. E. coli comes from three main sources: humans (generally via inadequate wastewater disposal systems), dogs and other pets, and other animals that live in the watersheds draining to Lake Champlain such as skunks, deer, birds, raccoons, and others. The Town's summer sampling program performs water quality tests at 9 locations along the lake each summer to ensure our beach areas are safe for swimmers.
Here in Colchester, the properties along Inner Malletts Bay have soil and site conditions that make it difficult for on-site wastewater disposal systems to function properly, including shallow depth to bedrock, high groundwater tables, poorly draining soils, small lot sizes and proximity to the Lake. The Planning Commission is currently evaluating wastewater alternatives in this area. Visit their website to learn more about this process.
Regarding dogs and other pets, over 50,000 pet waste bags are provided annually at town parks and along recreation paths. We encourage you to use them! Click the image to the right for more information about Rethink Runoff, a regional organization the Town is involved in that educates residents about local water quality issues, including bacteria, fertilizer use, stormwater runoff, and more.
Non-human, non-pet waste is more challenging to tackle because these animals call our watersheds home and have for hundreds of years. The town removes waste from our beaches, installs dock decoys to deter geese and other animals, and removes dead animals from the roadside. The stormwater utility is currently partnering with UVM on a pilot project to assess other technologies for this waste.
Chloride is usually introduced into the environment as road salt, often applied in the winter to roadways and parking lots by public and private operators in order to achieve safe driving conditions. This salt can be carried to waterways, which can harm vegetation, aquatic species and other wildlife, pets, and potentially threaten private drinking water supplies. To ensure safe handling of salt, the town stores salt in a covered building, so piles cannot leach into surrounding waterways and are protected from the weather. We also calibrate our plow trucks each winter and use electronic programming equipment so we can ensure that only the right amount of salt is being applied to the roadway, and we track how much salt is being used throughout the winter season. Salt is not typically used as a de-icing strategy in very low temperatures as its effectiveness is reduced, and the application of straight road salt is not used on gravel roadways.
There are two waterways in Colchester that are considered by the EPA to be impaired by sediment - Morehouse Brook and Sunderland Brook. These are urban watersheds that have been affected by stormwater runoff that contains sediment as it drains to the Lake. Too much sediment in waterways limits photosynthesis and plant growth, degrades wetland habitat available for aquatic species, and can reduce the clarity of the water which may negatively affect aquatic plant and animal migration and growth patterns. Our federal stormwater permits have required the development of a Flow Restoration Plan (FRP) for each watershed which include projects aimed to address these concerns.
The Sunderland Brook FRP was jointly developed by the Town of Colchester, the Town of Essex, the Village of Essex Junction, and the VT Agency of Transportation because the watershed is shared by these public landowners. In the Sunderland Brook watershed all targets have been met as required. The Morehouse Brook FRP is shared between the City of Winooski and the Town of Colchester, and there are several projects underway to achieve compliance with targets in this watershed. Learn more information about FRP's and view copies of plans adopted for waterways in Colchester.