by Thorolf Van Walsum
GREENSBORO – On Thursday, October 14, representatives of various conservation organizations met throughout the Lamoille River basin to discuss, in the first convening since 2016, the Lamoille River watershed’s tactical basin plan. The plan, updated every five years, is a look at the goings-on of a specific watershed from multiple perspectives, from aquatic life to phosphorous levels, as well as proposed solutions to present or future issues.
The Hardwick and Greensboro area is comprised of five different sub-basins of the total eighteen that make up the Lamoille River basin: the upper and lower headwaters of Lamoille, Ryder Brook, Elmore Branch and Wild Branch. Of these, the lower headwaters (which represents the majority of the town of Hardwick) was a shining example among its compatriots, with near perfect fish and macroinvertebrate scores, significantly outstripping ecosystem quality found further downstream.
This is not simply a result of the Greensboro area being upstream of the miles of sediment that the lower Lamoille River receives. In an interview with the Hardwick Gazette, Danielle Owczarski, the Lamoille River Watershed Planner, described what it is that is keeping the Hardwick area so pristine. “It’s less to do with the fact that the water is upstream as it is to do with the geography of the area. The Greensboro area is steeper, its rivers run faster, and there are fewer farms. All these factors lead to less sedimentation and a healthier ecosystem.”
It is not just the rivers that sparkle in Greensboro, however. In the entirety of the Lamoille River Tactical Basin, there are eight lakes that occupy more than 130 acres. Caspian Lake, the jewel of the basin, is not only the largest in the watershed at 789 acres, but also the most pristine. In the Lamoille River Tactical Basin, nine lakes and segments of rivers were thought to potentially meet the criteria for reclassification under a higher protection class. Caspian Lake was the only of these proposed to be listed under an A grade protection class, all others being categorized as B. The Hardwick Gazette had an interview with Oliver Pierson from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on what, exactly, this reclassification would mean for Caspian Lake and its surrounding area.
“Caspian has excellent quality water as measured by our nutrient criteria, the phosphorus concentration, the water clarity, and the chlorophyll A concentration that represents the algae levels. All of these levels actually exceed the A1 requirements, so it’s eligible to be bumped up into this A1 classification, which afford[s] some additional protections. That’s what the town of Greensboro and some of the associations around Caspian Lake have been working on. They’ve submitted a petition to the State of Vermont- to the DEC, asking us to classify Caspian as ‘A1’ or ‘Excellent’ status and benefit from those protections. Once you call it A1, you have to keep it A1. If the water quality drops, you have to restore it.”
Paradise, however, is not impervious to trouble. “What’s interesting with Caspian is that it has significantly increasing phosphorous levels over the last thirty years, so it’s trending in the wrong direction. That’s why we’re working to reclassify it. We’ve measured. While it’s still pristine today, its phosphorus levels have been creeping up even as the year goes on. By reclassifying it as A1 and putting in some additional protections, we may be able to reverse that. We haven’t scheduled the public hearings yet, but they’ll be well publicized, and hybrid, so people can attend at home or in person. They’ll be in late fall, early 2022 at the latest.”
As with any protective legislation, there will be potential constraints placed on the community. Pierson did not see these constraints as anything to be worried about. “One of the rules for A1 watersheds, the main one here, is no new indirect discharge systems, aka, sceptic tanks. You wouldn’t be able to have any new sceptic systems with more than a thousand gallons per day. And that’s a very large dose. Think a house with more than twelve bedrooms, a campsite with more than twenty camps, industries, large businesses. So that’s a choice Greensboro will have to make. Do we want to maintain our water quality or do we not want to have these restrictions in place and allow for some development to occur. So that’s a choice that needs to be made. But by submitting this petition, it seems the Greensboro association is okay with that prohibition.”
The interview concluded with a sense of hope for the passing of the reclassification. “I’d like to recognize the town of Greensboro and the stewards of the Greensboro Watershed, the Greensboro Association. I know it took a lot of hard work and so I’d just like to acknowledge the excellent work in their community.”
It will be another five years until the next Tactical Basin meeting and, with a changing climate, the problems the community faces may metamorphose or amplify in unforeseeable ways. Nevertheless, community watershed engagement goes on. A high note of the tactical basin meeting was doubtlessly the delight with which Danielle Owczarski reported the increase in community water quality surveyor volunteers. At the time of writing, the petition to re-classify Caspian Lake stands at 156 signatures and counting.