CLF's Vermont Advocacy Center recently earned a major victory in its efforts to clean up Lake Champlain, one with implications for waters all over the state -- perhaps all over the country. We appealed a stormwater permit issued by the state's Agency of Natural Resources to Lowe's Home Centers, Inc., the North Carolina retailing giant. Lowe's wants to build a 13-acre big box store and parking lot in South Burlington that would dump pollution into Potash Brook -- an already polluted tributary of Lake Champlain. While the case is still in progress, our advocacy prompted an action by the Vermont Water Resources Board that will change how the state handles development proposals in polluted watersheds.
Potash Brook, Lake Champlain, and more than 100 other Vermont waters are already so polluted that they don't meet state or federal water quality standards. By law, permits cannot be issued for development projects that will add pollution to these waters, unless there is a clean-up strategy in place. This is a key piece of the Clean Water Act, passed more than 30 years ago, yet it has largely been ignored by states across the nation, including Vermont.
Stormwater pollution is caused by rain and melted snow that washes over developed areas (roads, parking lots, lawns, and rooftops) and drains into rivers, ponds, and lakes. This tainted water contains oil, salt, phosphorus, sediment, pathogens, and other toxic substances, and each construction project must obtain a permit to discharge it. Lowe's would add tons of such pollution to Potash Brook and Lake Champlain's Shelburne Bay. Clean water laws should have prevented the Agency of Natural Resources from issuing a permit that would further their degradation.
Despite the fact that many of Vermont's waters are badly polluted, the Agency routinely issues permits for new developments that will make the problems worse. CLF finds this to be irresponsible and, most importantly, illegal. Based on this reasoning, we challenged the permit issued to Lowe's, arguing that the massive development would violate state and federal law.
The Water Resources Board...