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Panel Presses Key Pollution Issue

By Cheryl Dorschner Article published October 29, 2003

The Clarion Hotel parking lot on Oct. 24 was the first clue. Most cars sported either Vermont conservation or state government license plates. A cluster of bumper stickers proclaimed, “We all live downstream,” “build community,” “stop sprawl” and “Red Sox” — hopeful messages all.

Inside the adjacent conference center, the similarly optimistic voices of scientists, educators, legislators, lawyers, conservationists, students and citizens spoke out on the many paths to a solution to one of Vermont’s most serious pollution issues — storm water.

The annual stormwater conference comprised a trio of panels sponsored by the Vermont Water Resources and Lake Studies Center at the University of Vermont and the Lake Champlain Committee.

The first panel showed how several organizations, including the ECHO at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, Lake Champlain Sea Grant program and UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, pursue an array of approaches to help the public understand what storm water is and how to deal with it.

The second panel brought key players together to review one of Vermont’s major storm water debates: the issues surrounding Potash Brook which flows through several Chittenden County cities and on to Lake Champlain.

And finally, attendees discussed new efforts attempting to deal with storm water in the Potash Brook watershed including the City of South Burlington’s EPA Demonstration Grant project and Professor Breck Bowden’s “Redesigning the American Neighborhood: Cost Effectiveness of Interventions in Storm Water Management.”

“There was excellent give and take between the panels and the audience,” said workshop organizer Alan McIntosh, a professor of natural resources and director of the Vermont Water Center. “I think some of the information presented got a number of folks in the audience thinking about new ways to deal with storm water. Thelma Murphy, Environmental Protection Agency Region 1 Coordinator, gave an overview of storm water in Region I that brought the audience up to speed on what our neighboring states are doing.

“It’s really helpful to find out what everyone else is doing,” said Essex public works director Dennis Lutz. “We can apply some of the things learned at Potash Brook in my community – we have two impaired waterways: Indian Brook and Sunderland Brook. If I see a solution I can use economically — great. And with more people monitoring streams besides the state, I may be able to use some of those findings.”

UVM senior and environmental science major Chris Tomborg said he attended to get more information for two course projects he’s working on: one is measuring what is going into campus storm drains and the other involves coming up with storm water solutions for the University Heights construction. Sharon Behar came to the workshop on behalf of Voices for Potash Brook Watershed. “I came here first to make sure that the community presence is seen in events like this and secondly to find out what’s going on,” she said. “I learned they’re working on some new things.”

“Hopefully, the lessons learned (at Potash Brook) in the past and proposed new directions can be a useful guide as other communities struggle with their streams,” said McIntosh. He hopes to put a video of the first session and photos online at Vermont Water Center.