Tactical Basin Planning subgrants to RPCs support spirited conversations on planned Clean Water Service Providers

With support from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VTDEC), the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) and other RPCs have been conducting outreach to explain VTDEC’s recent RFP for the selection of Clean Water Service Provider for seven watershed basins. The Clean Water Service Delivery Act of 2019 (Act 76) established a water quality project delivery framework to support Vermont’s clean water goals. Act 76 establishes new regional organizations called Clean Water Service Providers (CWSPs). With policy and priority support setting from their related Basin Water Quality Councils (BWQCs), CWSPs will administer formula-based State grants for the purpose of identifying, constructing, and maintaining non-regulatory water quality projects necessary to achieve the Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog phosphorus TMDLs and other pollutant reduction targets both inside and beyond these specific basins.

Starting this January, the CCRPC used its Clean Water Advisory Committee as its primary sounding board to gain input and keep its members informed on the various roles of a CWSP, how might a BWQC operate and most importantly how non-regulatory projects might be developed and implemented. CCRPC staff, Dan Albrecht and Charlie Baker were able to provide particularly informed feedback as they both serve to represent RPCs on DEC’s Act 76 Working Group. These working group meetings, held twice each month, first served to develop the RFP and are now working on providing input to DEC on the planned rules and guidance which will detail the operational parameters for the CWSPs and the BWQCs.

CCRPC has focused this conversation on how these issues might play out in particular in the case of the Northern Lake Champlain Direct Drainages Basin, aka Basin 5 while other RPCs have fostered similar conversations in the other Lake Champlain basins. In addition to fostering input from municipalities, the CCPC has also heard from watershed organizations, natural resource conservation districts and conservation organizations. These conversations addressed a variety of questions. Much discussion focused on how a BWQC would prioritize projects. Others focused on striking the proper balance between the CWSP as the overall responsible entity to assure phosphorus reduction targets are being met and the role of the numerous partner organizations who have the on-the-ground knowledge to implement projects.

While the designation of Clean Water Service Providers is still many months away, these late winter discussions as well as the ongoing work of the Act 76 Working Group are strengthening the relationships among all the various key players (municipalities, watershed groups, conservation organizations, natural resource conservation districts and RPCs). These partners along with DEC staff and the private sector (engineers, construction firms, etc.) will need to work together as partners to ensure the successful implementation and operation of clean water quality once the “formula grant” funds start to flow in FY22. Examples of “non-regulatory” projects that a CWSP and its partners might implement include floodplain restoration, wetland restoration, streambank stabilization and buffer plantings.