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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Vermont: Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III

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Story Separation Bar Flow Restoration Below Hydroelectric Facilities:
Relicensing Offers Opportunity to Increase Stream Flows


Jeff Cueto
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Water Quality Division
Building 10 North
103 South Main Street
Waterbury, VT 05671
Primary Sources of Pollution:

hydroelectric development
Primary NPS Pollutants:

Project Activities:

reviewing/commenting on relicensing applications

improved aquatic habitat

increased wastewater assimilative capacity

enhanced recreational use for swimming, fishing, and boating

elevated dissolved oxygen levels

reduced turbidity and suspended sediment

The impacts of hydroelectric development on Vermont streams were documented in a 1988 report titled Hydropower in Vermont: An Assessment of Environmental Problems and Opportunities, the first comprehensive environmental study of Vermont's 62 older hydroelectric projects. Artificial regulation of natural stream flows and the lack of adequate minimum stream flows at these sites were found to have reduced to a large extent the success of the state's initiatives to restore the beneficial uses and values for which the affected waters are managed. Slightly more than three-fourths of the hydroelectric projects studied were found to be adversely affecting the streams on which they were located. The substantial advances being made to clean up Vermont's rivers were being stymied by this flow regulation problem.

The project

Since 1991 Vermont has used section 319 funding to support the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) participation in the process of relicensing hydroelectric projects (under Clean Water Act section 401 authority). In doing so, DEC has developed positions on relicensing applications, influencing the preparation of conditions for future operation of the facilities to support desired multiple uses of the affected waters. Activities have also included evaluating the regulation of reservoir levels and downstream flows as related to the support of recreational uses, aquatic habitat, and aesthetics, as well as erosion of reservoir/impoundment shorelines and downstream riverbanks.

Site-specific successes

Given the technical and social complexities of relicensing, and in spite of several appeal proceedings, numerous accomplishments are a direct result of the focus provided by section 319. A few key examples illustrate these accomplishments:

  • The Clyde River Project was denied certification because of a project dam that degrades habitat and impedes migration of landlocked salmon from Lake Memphremagog. DEC subsequently worked with several parties to complete dam removal and restore this reach of the river, which was accomplished in 1996.
  • Projects occurring in the Passumpsic, Black, and Ottauquechee Rivers (Connecticut River Drainage) were relicensed subject to a "run-of-river conversion," requiring inclusion of special recreation and landscaping plans, bypass flows, and downstream fish passage.
  • The Center Rutland Project (Otter Creek, Lake Champlain Drainage) was relicensed after issuance of a water quality certification. The project is now being operated under a new flow management plan that includes spillage to improve bypass habitat, aesthetics, and dissolved oxygen concentrations in Rutland's wastewater management zone.

Expected results

Expected benefits from this nonpoint source implementation strategy include improved aquatic habitat; increased wastewater assimilative capacity; enhanced recreational uses for swimming, fishing, and boating; elevated dissolved oxygen levels; and reduced turbidity and suspended sediment.

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Lake Champlain Basin Watershed Project:
Significant Pollutant Reductions Achieved

Rick Hopkins
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Water Quality Division
Building 10 North
103 South Main Street
Waterbury, VT 05671
Primary Sources of Pollution:

agriculture (dairy)
Primary NPS Pollutants:



Project Activities:

livestock exclusion fencing

alternative water supplies

armored or bridged livestock stream crossings

bioengineering streambank stabilization practices

reductions in phosphorus, nitrogen, suspended solids, and indicator bacteria

improved macroinvertebrate community

Lake Champlain, the nation's sixth-largest freshwater lake, is undergoing cultural eutrophication due to excessive phosphorus loads. About 71 percent of the lake's average annual phosphorus load of 647 metric tons comes from nonpoint sources, and two-thirds of this load is estimated to come from agricultural land in the basin.

Over the past several decades, efforts to reduce agricultural nonpoint source pollution in Vermont have focused on improving animal waste management in the state's predominantly dairy agriculture. Construction of manure storage structures, barnyard runoff management, and adoption of waste utilization plans to avoid winter spreading of manure have been widely encouraged under a variety of federal and state cost-share and technical assistance programs. However, dairy cows traditionally spend half of the year away from the barn on pasture, and impacts on water quality from livestock grazing have not been addressed in previous nonpoint source reduction programs. Free access to streams and streambanks by livestock is commonplace in Vermont. Direct deposition of waste into streams, destruction of riparian vegetation, and trampling of streambanks and streambeds all represent important sources of sediment, nutrients, and bacteria to surface waters in Vermont.


A bridge was constructed to allow cows to cross the stream without contributing to streambank erosion.

Paired watershed study

The Lake Champlain Basin Watershed Project was initiated in 1994, as one of the projects composing the Section 319 Nonpoint Source National Monitoring Program,[BROKEN] Exit EPA Disclaimer to evaluate the effectiveness of grazing management, livestock exclusion, and streambank protection as tools for controlling nonpoint source pollution in small agricultural watersheds. The project used a paired watershed design, using two treatment watersheds and a control watershed, to track changes over a 7-year period. Contributing partners included the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Franklin County Natural Resource Conservation District, and participating watershed agricultural landowners.

In 1997, following a 3-year monitoring/calibration period, a number of land treatments were applied throughout the Samsonville Brook and Godin Brook watersheds. The treatments included livestock exclusion fencing, alternative water supplies, armored or bridged livestock stream crossings, and bioengineering streambank stabilization practices (with brushrolls, tree revetments, and willow plantings).


Exclusion fencing, requiring only normal fence maintenance, is a simple way to keep livestock from degrading streambanks.

Maintenance was not a major problem for the treatments; only normal fence maintenance was required. Water supply was an obvious concern following livestock exclusion from stream reaches, but the project was fortunate in that alternative supplies could be exploited relatively simply at all sites. In a limited way, the project demonstrated some success in using pasture pumps to provide water for beef cattle, but water for dairy cows is a serious operational issue to be considered in future applications.

The bioengineering installations appeared to work well, as demonstrated by rapid and strong growth of planted willows and native riparian zone vegetation throughout the treatment period. Brushrolls survived high flows very well and appeared to perform their function of trapping sediment, supporting new vegetation growth, and protecting streambanks.

Confirmed pollutant reduction

Three years of post-treatment monitoring was completed in November 2000. The final results confirm significant reductions in phosphorus, nitrogen, suspended solids, and indicator bacteria in response to treatment (see table). Biomonitoring data also suggested improvements in the macroinvertebrate community, particularly due to riparian zone protection. Although no significant improvements in fish assemblages were observed, physical habitat improvements were noted in the treated sections of both Samsonville Brook and Godin Brook. Overall, the project was successful in demonstrating that practical, low-technology, low-cost practices can yield significant improvements in water quality.

Average Documented Pollutant Reductions Over Three Post-treatment Years in Samsonville Brook

Total phosphorus -15%
Total Kjeldahl nitrogen -12%
Total suspended solids -34%
Total phosphorus export -49%
Total Kjeldahl nitrogen export -38%
Total suspended solids export -28%
E. coli -29%
Fecal coliform bacteria -38%
Fecal streptococcus -40%
Conductance -11%
Temperature -6%
VT1_2 Healthy vegetation along streambanks protects water quality by preventing erosion and filtering nutrients.

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