Pollution in our water system can come from a wide range of sources, making it difficult to prevent and hard to recover from. Good planning can help mitigate against water pollution and ensure that our communities continue to have excellent water resources into the future.
Below are links and resources that can be used to identify and prevent water pollution.
Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is primarily a non-point source pollution problem, since acidic water drains out of above-ground or under-ground coal or metal mines. Acid mine drainage impacts stream and river ecosystems by increasing acidity, depleting oxygen, and releasing heavy metals. Acid mine drainage may occur during mining operations or long after a mine has been abandoned. There are three abandoned mines in our region that contribute AMD to rivers and streams in the Ompompanoosuc River Basin: Elizabeth Mine, Pike Hill Mine and Ely Mine. Additional information about the Elizabeth Mine can be found at the links below.
EPA Elizabeth Mine Cleanup - The Waste Site and Clean Up section of the EPA's website contains information on The Elizabeth Mine in Strafford. As part of the various studies, one or more samples of mine tailings, surface water, sediment, fish tissues, ground water, and drinking water have been collected and analyzed for metals. The results indicated the presence of metals that exceeded background levels. The entire length of Copperas Brook and several miles of the West Branch of the Ompompanoosuc River fail to meet Vermont Water Quality Standards based on both numerical and biological criteria.
Agriculture is an important part of Vermont's landscape, heritage and economy, but improper fertilizer or pesticide application, poor manure management, tilling too close to surface waters and other activities are a large cause of water quality problems. Water quality impacts can be lessened by following the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs), and addressed even more thoroughly by following Best Management Practices (BMPs). Technical assistance is provided by many agencies, especially USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and VT Conservation Districts.
Agricultural Pointsource Pollution
Much work has been done lately to develop new materials and construction practices that are designed to increase water filtration and groundwater recharge, as well as decreasing the speed of runoff. For more information, use the links below.
Low Impact Development Center - The Low Impact Development Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of Low Impact Development technology. Low Impact Development is a new, comprehensive land planning and engineering design approach with a goal of maintaining and enhancing the pre-development hydrologic regime of urban and developing watersheds.
The UNH Stormwater Center - The UNH Stormwater Center designed, constructed, and runs a facility that provides the controlled testing of stormwater management designs and devices. The primary mission of the Center is the protection of water resources through effective stormwater management.
Mercury contamination in our lakes is a widespread problem throughout Vermont. Unlike many other organic chemical compounds, mercury does not readily break down or biodegrade, rather it stays in aquatic systems. It accumulates in the muscle tissues of living things and those concentrations are magnified in organisms that feed higher in the food chain. Fish, especially large fish, can contain unhealthy levels of mercury. To minimize exposure to potentially harmful contaminants and to protect your health, the Vermont Department of Health recommends following their guidelines (see Health Alert below) when eating fish caught in Vermont.
VT Dept. of Health: Health Alert on Fish
Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Water Quality Division - The VT DEC WQ Division provides useful information on mercury and other persistent pollutants such as, PCB’s, and DDT.
When we think about water pollution, most think of a pipe that discharges directly into our waterways. This type of pollution is called point source pollution, since it comes from a point. Much work has already been done to eliminate this type of pollution through the National Pollution Elimination Discharge System (NPEDS). However, another much more difficult problem is non-point source pollution, which involves stormwater runoff.
As water travels across the landscape, it picks up oil residues, pesticides, sediment, animal wastes, toxic chemicals, salt, and trash and unloads all of these residues in our waterways. Since each residue comes from a different source and enters waterways over a dispersed area, it can be difficult to trace, hence the name non-point source pollution. Education, prevention, and best management practices are the best solutions against non-point source pollution. When regulatory action is needed, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) may need to be established to allocate the amount of pollution released.
See related links for buffers, roads, agriculture and stormwater for more information.
The single most effective tool to protecting our lakes and rivers are riparian buffer zones. Riparian buffer zones are vegetated tracts of land adjacent to streams, lakes, and wetlands containing trees, shrubs, and/or grass. Riparian corridors are the buffers and larger tracts of land along shorelines that support distinct ecosystems. Riparian buffer zones and corridors are necessary to protect water quality, stabilize streambanks, provide habitat for wildlife, and increase the overall aesthetics of an area.
ANR Riparian Buffer Guidance
Connecticut River Joint Commission buffer fact sheet - The Connecticut River Joint Commission has produced an award-winning fact-sheet on the importance of riparian buffers. It is printable in a pdf format and is reprintable without permission.
Vermont Agricultural Buffer Program - Of the land currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), only 20 % is on cropland while the remainder is on hay fields and pasture lands. Cropland has a greater potential in some instances to contribute phosphorus and sediment to the waters of Vermont and hence the primary goal of the Vermont Agricultural Buffer Program (VABP) is to protect more cropland within 25 feet of rivers and streams around the state by establishing permanent grass to capture nutrients and sediment before they enter the stream.
Roads impact waters by increasing runoff due to their large impervious surface. This runoff can also carry oils, salt and silt from the roads and ditches into surface waters. There are construction and maintenance programs that road crews can use to lessen the impact of roads.
VT Better Backroads Program - The Vermont Better Backroads Program’s goal is to promote the use of erosion control and maintenance techniques that save money while protecting and enhancing Vermont’s lakes and streams.
Stormwater is simply runoff from rain or snowmelt. It carries various pollutants to waterways and is best managed through means that slow its flow, filter out pollutants and/or absorb it into the ground. See the links above for riparian buffers, impervious surfaces, roads and agriculture for more specific information on each of these topics that relate to stormwater. There is additional stormwater related information under the Permitting link to the right.