State rolls out plan to reclassify region’s rivers

Ottaquechee River. Valley News photo(This story by Matt Hongoltz-Hetling was published in the Valley News on Jan. 19.)
WEST WINDSOR — State officials are asking residents around Windsor County to weigh in on a plan that would reclassify many waters within the Black and Ottauquechee river basins, and determine funding for watershed projects over the next five years.
“I would love to hear from people on what their priorities are, and what their concerns are for clean water in the region,” said Marie Levesque Caduto, a watershed coordinator with the Agency of Natural Resources. “Folks know significantly more about their local streams than I … and I would love to hear from folks about what they’re seeing.”

There will be three public comment sessions on the 163-page proposed “Basin 10 Plan,” which refers to 425 square miles of land between Killington Peak and Springfield that drains water into the Ottauquechee and Black rivers. Basin 10, one of 17 designated river basins in the state, also includes the Connecticut River and its Vermont tributaries, from Hartford to Bellows Falls. The “Basin 9 Plan,” covering the White River, is scheduled to be reviewed in a year or two.
It is generally known that some rivers and brooks have better water quality than others, but what is more difficult to determine is where the water quality is high enough to merit special protection, and where the quality is so low it should be placed at the top of a priority list for remediation grant projects.
Caduto said there are 440 water protection or remediation projects under consideration, “and more to come” within Basin 10, which can make for a dizzying number of options.
The current draft of the plan, which is available on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s watershed management website, reclassifies some waterways so they are eligible for different levels of protection.
Two Upper Valley locations are under consideration for classification as “outstanding resource waters,” a designation given to a waterway of exceptional recreational or aesthetic value.
One is the north branch of the Ottauquechee River, off Route 4 in Bridgewater, which Caduto said has been a topic of discussion for years.
“Because it’s high elevation, it’s very remote,” Caduto said. “But everyone who knows the area says that’s the place to go to fish.”
The other is Comtu Falls, right in downtown Springfield.
Under Vermont statute, designation as an outstanding resource water could have an effect on development.
Kevin Geiger, a planner with the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission, said the Basin 10 Plan would not block development, but would give developers advance warning that the value of a community resource would merit protection.
“It has no effect on regulation at all,” Geiger said. “The agency will tell you that protection is already there. You just wouldn’t know it until you went through the permitting process.”
The plan also will reclassify some bodies of water that are still listed as public water sources, even though they are no longer used. The plan would remove the designation from a 0.3-mile tributary of the Ottauquechee in North Hartland; the Carlton Hill Reservoir in Woodstock Village; and the Wright, Upper Hurricane and Lower Hurricane reservoirs in Hartford.
On the Black River, the new plan would reclassify 1.8 miles of Springfield Reservoir Brook, the 9.8-acre Springfield Reservoir and a 1.7-mile tributary to Mill Brook in Weathersfield. The reclassification would provide additional protections, Caduto said, because the water would be managed for the best health of the environment, rather than potential human consumption.
If a lake is designated as a provider of drinking water, Caduto said, “you need to be able to draw that water down if there is a drought and people need it. You need to be able to treat the water, if there’s a contaminant. You are not allowed to do that in a natural lake.”
The plan also recommends increasing wetland protections for Beaver Pond in Weathersfield and Eshqua Bog in Hartland, a natural area with a boardwalk, co-owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy of Vermont and The New England Wildflower Society.
It would recommend reclassifying a series of waters from “B,” the default classification, to “A(1),” water that is excellent for at least one of a variety of uses — boating, fishing, swimming or supporting aquatic habitat.
Those waters would include a Black River tributary in Springfield, a Kilburn Brook tributary in Hartford and a Barnard Brook tributary in Pomfret.
Geiger said that, while he applauded the plan, in some areas “we would like the agency to go a little further” in designating waterways as deserving of the highest levels of protection.
“We’re of the mind that you should say, from the top of the river to the bottom of the river, people walk and swim and fish in waters,” he said. “The whole goal of the Clean Water Act of the 1970s was that all waters should be fishable and swimmable by 1983. And so we think you should be able to swim and fish in all of them.”
The first public comment session is scheduled for Tuesday, at the West Windsor Town Office, followed by one on Jan. 29 in the Woodstock Town Office on The Green, with the final session scheduled for Jan. 30 at the Cavendish Town Office. All three will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Read the story on VTDigger here: State rolls out plan to reclassify region’s rivers.