Water Quality Bill (H.35) (by Rep. Bob Krebs and Rep. Sarah Buxton)

Our lakes, rivers and ponds are struggling from pollution as our water management efforts over the decades have not kept pace with the impact of storm water runoff and high water events. A comprehensive and far-reaching water quality bill  (H.35) will be offered early next week that engages all land use sectors - including roads, highways, agricultural operations, developed land in urban areas, wastewater treatment plants, and forestlands. All will be required to improve practices through long-term and sustained efforts. The bill has been reviewed by FWWR, Ag, Ways & Means, Judiciary, and Appropriations.
·         Purpose: This bill improves the quality of the State waters, implements the Lake Champlain TMDL and meets the impending TMDL for other waters, identifies cost effective strategies to address water quality, and engages stakeholders in efforts to achieve cleaner water throughout the state.
·         Small Farms:  “Small Farms” will be defined as a parcel of land on which 10 or more acres are used for farming and that houses no less than a number of animals (to be set by rule) and more than the maximum number of animals for a small farm (e.g. 199 dairy cows), OR produces crops for sale. Small farms will be required to certify compliance with the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs) every 5 years. The Agency of Agriculture (AAFM) is authorized to inspect farms to determine compliance with the AAPs. During inspection, AAFM shall identify areas that could use assistance to improve compliance with the AAPs. Identified areas will be ranked and receive priority assistance to achieve AAP compliance. An annual fee of $250 (beginning in 2016) shall be assessed on farms housing fewer than 100 mature dairy animals and $500 shall be assessed on farms housing 100 to 199 mature dairy animals.
·         Agricultural Water Quality Funding:  An Agricultural Water Quality Special Fund will be established to fund the administration and implementation of water quality programs.  The following fees will be deposited into the fund: $2,500 annual registration fee for large farms, $1,500 annual registration fee for medium farms, annual $100 registration fee for commercial feed $100, $30 a ton fee on nonagricultural fertilizer distributed in the State, annual product registration fee on pesticides of $125. $1,056,000 will be appropriated to AAFM in FY2016 for 7 agricultural water quality positions
·         Farmer Training: Agency of Ag will adopt requirements for training owners or operators of small, medium, and large farms regarding: prevention of discharges to waters; mitigation of stormwater runoff; and land application of manure, nutrients, septage, and sludge – and will require training as a condition of a LFO permit, MFO permit, and SFO certification.
·         Custom Applicators: Custom applicator means the owner of a company engaged in the business of applying manure, nutrients, septage, or sludge to land for compensation. Custom applicators will be required to complete 8 hours of training over each 5 year period to address application methods that minimize runoff and identification of weather or soil conditions that increase risk of runoff.
·         Enforcement: The new enforcement subchapter streamlines and makes consistent the existing enforcement authority, while also providing new authority, including: Emergency assistance orders to protect water quality; Mandatory corrective actions; and Authority to remove livestock when the volume of livestock waste exceeds farm capacity. When a farm is found to be in violation of the LFO, MFO, or AAP requirements, the Agency must provide the farm with a “required corrective action” plan. The Agency will also have civil enforcement authority to enjoin activities, order corrective actions, and levy civil penalties of up to $85,000 for violations.
·         Stream Alteration:  A stream alteration permit will be required for an agricultural practice that moves 10 cubic yards of instream material except for approved streambank stabilization projects.
·         Land Use Conditions: Property Valuation and Review (PVR) shall remove agricultural land or a farm building from use value appraisal (UVA) if the owner/operator is identified by the Agency of Ag as out of compliance with the water quality requirement or not in compliance with an enforcement order for an agricultural water quality violation. If land or a building is removed from UVA, a farmer may not apply for reenrollment until the Agency notifies PVR that the owner or operator is complying with agricultural water quality requirements or the enforcement order for an agricultural water quality violation. Agricultural land or a farm building included in an AAFM notification to PVR would be subject to the land use change tax.
·         ANR Basin Planning: ANR must update the basin plans for the 15 watersheds and conduct certain activities in planning, including: ensuring involvement by municipal officials and interested parties; ensuring local input in planning process; providing education to municipal officials regarding planning and developing a recommendation on conformance of basin plan with applicable regional plans.
·         ANR Stormwater Management: Clarifies activities that require an ANR stormwater permit and activities that are exempted. ANR will issue general permits for stormwater discharges from municipal roads by July 1, 2021. By Jan. 1, 2018, ANR will issue a general permit for discharges of stormwater from impervious surface of 3 or more acres in size that previously were never permitted or were permitted under a pre-2002 permit standard. The general permit shall require retrofitting or redevelopment of old impervious surface. ANR may deny an application for a stormwater permit due to an applicant’s compliance history.
·         Vermont Clean Water Fund: A Clean Water Fund Special Fund will be established to provide funding to programs and projects that address sources of water pollution in impaired waters, projects that address water pollution in critical source areas, and programs or projects to repair riparian conditions that pose a risk of flooding. The Fund shall consist of revenue dedicated to it including a 0.2% surcharge on the property transfer tax.  A Clean Water Fund Board shall administer the Fund, made up of the Secretaries of ANR, AAFM, AOT, and ACCD, and 8 additional members, appointed by the Speaker of the House, the Committee on Committees, and the Governor. The Clean Water Fund Board shall make recommendations to the Secretary of Administration regarding how funds from the Clean Water Fund shall be included in the State budget.
·         Clean Water Surcharge and DEC Fees: A 0.2% surcharge will be placed on the value of property subject to the property transfer tax. The surcharge is not assessed on the first $100,000 in value of property used for the principal residence of the transferee and is not assessed on the first $110,000 in value of property purchased with VHFA funds. The surcharge is deposited in the Clean Water Fund and will sunset in 2021. $1.3 million in DEC fees has already been approved and, combined with a $1.3 million ANR appropriation, will provide funding for 13 water quality staff.
·         Logging: The Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation will revise the Acceptable Management Practices by rule by March 1, 2016 to ensure that all logging jobs are designed to prevent water quality impacts