Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain as seen from Milton's Eagle Mountain Harbor Road.

Stones now line some of Milton's steepest roadway edges and colorful paintings decorate catch basins.

Those are just part of the town's effort to reduce it's impact on Lake Champlain. Although the stretches of Lake Champlain along Milton's western edge haven't been plagued other parts of the lake, the town has role to play in its clean up. 

Like other Chittenden County towns, Milton is subject to an MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit. Although the name gives little indication of its purpose, the aim of Milton's MS4 is to reduce runoff into the rivers and streams that flow into Lake Champlain. Runoff can carry pollutants directly to the lake. Large volumes of water, such as that flowing off a paved surface, can also erode the sides and bottoms of waterways, including ditches. 

The eroded sediment then making its way toward the lake carries with it phosphorous which encourages the excessive growth of blue-green algae. The algae is not only unpleasant. It can be toxic, sometimes killing exposed pets.

By keeping tourists away, the algae causes job and income losses in restaurants, hotels and other businesses, according to a 2016 analysis by the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Looking at several years of data, LCBP determined that for every one-meter loss in water quality, Vermont lost $12.6 million in tourism in the summer months.

Decorating the catch basins is one of the ways Milton is seeking to educate the public about where those basins go and why people shouldn't put things down them.

And people do put things down them. The public works department knows because staff find all kinds of things when vacuuming out the basins, according to David Allterton, Milton's director of public works and town engineer.

As part of its MS4 obligations, the town must do outreach and educate to inform residents about how their actions on the land can impact the lake. Milton has joined with other Chittenden County communities which have MS4 permits to do that work. Collectively, the towns support the website rethinkrunoff.org, which explains the impact of runoff, and has curricula and lessons teachers can use, along with tips for residents on how they can reduce their impact on Lake Champlain. One such tip: wash your car on your lawn rather than your driveway so the water will sink back into the ground.

Getting water to sink back into the ground is also the rational behind the stones and berms going up around Milton's roadways. Both slow the water, giving it time to settle into the ground and reducing the speed and volume at which the water hits rivers and streams. That, in turn, reduces erosion. It also helps to prolong the life of the road by reducing erosion along the sides of the roadway which will eventually undermine it.

"There's a lot we can do to stop runoff from getting into local waterways," said Allerton.

The town just completed a stormwater master plan identifying 60 possible projects within the town. Now the town can select the projects it will work based on how the availability of funding and other resources to complete the work and how much of an impact the project will have. "They're identified now and we can start to pick them off," said Allerton

One such project will be the installation of a sedimentation pond to capture and contain runoff from The Ledges, a steep are above Allen Brook. Currently, "all that stormwater drains down into Allen Brook," said Allerton.

Allen Brook isn't impaired, but it's teetering on the edge. It would be better for the town not to have the brook become impaired, with all of the regulations that will bring, Allerton suggested.

Public works staff now receive training on how to do road maintenance in ways that minimize environmental impact, covering topics such as salt reduction and culvert replacement.

In addition to keeping it own operations up to snuff, the town must also monitor construction projects to make sure the proper erosion controls are in place. Allerton also examines plans submitted to the town to make certain the stormwater management on the site will be adequate and that there is a plan in place to maintain the stormwater system over time. 

They also keep an eye on the stormwater infrastructure as it's being built. "We review and inspect these things as they go in, especially if we're going to take over the infrastructure," said Allerton. However, the town doesn't take over any stormwater infrastructure, such as detention ponds, which are outside the town's right-of-way.

"There's not one thing that's going to do it," Allerton said of cleaning up Lake Champlain. "it's going to be the summation of thousands of projects up and down the shore."

The MS4 permit is "making us do all this stuff, but it's stuff we should be doing anyway."

To learn more about the town's stormwater efforts, visit miltonvt.gov/stormwater.

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