How can you go BLUE in the Lake Champlain basin? Guidance for Residential Stormwater Infrastructure

By Jill Sarazen
September 11, 2023

During rain events, water that falls on impervious surfaces such as parking lots, rooftops, and roads, runs off to other areas. Along the way, this water can pick up sediment, leaked car oil, and trash. Typically, stormwater runoff flows untreated and carries these pollutants into storm drains and eventually into streams, rivers, and lakes.

Ideally when it rains, the water soaks into the ground. This is what occurs in undisturbed natural areas, like forests, where there is ample and diverse vegetation. Plant roots and soil help soak up the nutrients that the rainwater collects, and the filtered water slowly flows toward water bodies.

Stormwater runoff problems in the Lake Champlain basin are exacerbated by increased impervious or semi-pervious surfaces, and more intense rainstorms. With more roads, parking lots, and buildings, rainwater collects and accelerates downstream as opposed to seeping into soils. Many of the green areas left such as lawns and greenbelts lack deep-rooted plants. In these areas, rainwater can seep into the soil but much slower than in more diverse landscapes. Additionally, lawns that are fertilized at levels beyond what is needed for grass to grow contribute to pollutants in stormwater.

The Vermont Climate Report predicts there will be more intense rainstorms in the Lake Champlain basin as climate change worsens. It is not just annual precipitation they predict to increase, but the amount of rain per storm. Since soils only soak up the rain at a certain rate, all that excess water runs off the surface anyway. In situations with consistent heavy rains, like we’ve had in the Lake Champlain basin this summer, soils remain fully saturated without enough time to dry out in between storms, leading to increased runoff and flooding.

Lake Champlain Sea Grant partners with the City of Burlington, Fitzgerald Environmental Associates, and Just Water Consulting to lead BLUE, a residential green stormwater infrastructure incentive and certification program. Residents in the City of Burlington can receive a free stormwater property assessment from BLUE BTV staff who explain how to make your property more effective at soaking up stormwater, like a sponge!

BLUE evaluators work with homeowners to identify opportunities for them to install practices that reduce the amount of rainwater and snowmelt that flow to nearby waterways and to engage in watershed-friendly stewardship activities to help protect local waters from pollutants and cyanobacteria blooms.  The City of Burlington offers rebates for certain practices that are outlined in the design guidance standards, Basis of Design.

Whether you live in Burlington or other places in the Lake Champlain Basin, all residents can take steps to ‘go BLUE.’

Not all properties will be the same, so not all solutions will work for you. Here are some examples of easy projects to do at home:

  • A rain garden captures runoff coming from rooftops and driveways. A basin with planted vegetation and soil media stores, treats, and infiltrates water. Rain gardens with native vegetation also provide excellent pollinator habitat!
  • Permeable pavements can infiltrate stormwater that flows through porous spaces and into below-ground subsurface storage.
  • A drip line infiltration trench can slow water falling from rooftops where there are no gutters and allow for infiltration into surrounding soils.
  • A driveway trench drain captures water coming from driveways and directs it to a stabilized vegetated area to infiltrate into the ground.
  • A rain chain can slow water coming off a rooftop so there is less erosive force when it reaches the ground.
  • Dry wells are a ground storage location to collect and gradually infiltrate water into the surrounding soils. They can be areas backfilled with gravel or a hollow storage container.

Since the BLUE BTV program was relaunched in its new form in 2022, over $7,000 total in rebates were provided to 12 homeowners for installing approved green stormwater infrastructure that helps to slow down stormwater runoff so it can infiltrate on the property. The practices that have been installed include permeable driveways, gutter replacements, downspout disconnection, infiltration trenches, and rain barrels.  Read more about the first year of the BLUE BTV program by reading our report from the first year and more information on the BLUE page of the LCSG website.

Learn more about residential stormwater management and the BLUE program in our StoryMap or contact us at seagrant [at]