Both the WRNRCD and the ONRCD are bound to the east by the Connecticut River making both Districts part of the Connecticut River Watershed.  The Connecticut River Watershed is the largest river ecosystem in New England, encompassing approximately 11,000 square miles and spanning four New England states. The Connecticut River was designated as a National Heritage River in 1998, and it is now a national blueway and priority landscape of national significance for the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. This is one of the most at-risk areas of New England for forest fragmentation. This is an area with multiple federal and state interests, with public land acquisition, access to recreation, and economic interests leading the way. (ctriver.org)

Every watershed can be subdivided into smaller and smaller watersheds down to an individual stream.  The watersheds within Vermont are covered by a Tactical Basin Plan (TBP). For WRNRCD and ORNRCD the relevant Tactical Basin Plans include: Basin 9 White River, Basin 14 Stevens, Wells, Waits, and Ompompanoosuc Rivers, and five Connecticut River tributaries, and Basin 10 Ottauquechee River & Black River and six Connecticut River tributaries.   All of these waters drain into the Connecticut River.

To help protect Vermont’s clean water,  every five years the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s (VTDEC) initiates the tactical basin planning process. Tactical Basin planning is designed to identify and prioritize state and local water quality issues and implement on-the-ground watershed protection and restoration projects. The following sections highlight some of the key findings from each TBP and the projects that often guide much of the District’s work plan.  Please refer to the Vermont DEC page linked at the heading of each plan for more information on each of the Basins.

The White River Basin encompasses 710 square miles in Vermont, draining portions of Addison, Orange, Rutland, Washington and Windsor Counties. The basin covers significant portions of 20 individual towns. The White River mainstem is approximately 56 miles long and is the longest free flowing large river in Vermont and the longest undammed tributary to the Connecticut River. An emerging network of designated recreational access sites, the White River Water Trail, showcases the basin’s overall good water quality and provides opportunities for water-based recreation such as fishing, swimming, boating, and related recreational uses. The mainstem of the White River is recommended as an Outstanding Resource Water for recreation. 42 waters have been identified for protection. In 2016, five waters were protected at the highest classification level.

Geologically, the watershed is sliced in half by the geological formation known as the Richardson Memorial Contact, which runs north to south, roughly from the eastern edge of Roxbury to central Barnard. This contact point separates the post-Taconian carbonate rich rocks to the east from the older quartz-rich rocks to the west. This split in bedrock is relevant as it represents an underlying structure that affects the chemistry of ground and surface waters. The younger rocks to the east are less tightly formed and more porous than those of the west, therefore allowing water to penetrate more quickly, which recharges groundwater at higher rates than the west. Waters east of the split also have a greater buffering capacity, mitigating impacts from acid rain. Geologic resources along the contact in Basin 9 include chromium, iron, arsenic, copper, zinc, and lead. To the east, quarried resources include white granite in Bethel, and talc, soapstone, serpentinite, and verde antique. 

The rich sediments deposited by Lake Hitchcock after glaciation and alluvial sedimentation from historic flooding have created river valleys with rich soil better suited for agriculture than the steep hillsides. Because most of the river valleys throughout the basin are narrow, much development and agriculture are located along the rivers where soil is rich and deep, and the topography is flat. Unfortunately, this land use pattern also leads to surface water pollution from stormwater runoff and inherently higher flood damage risks from encroachment into the river corridors and floodplains.

The basin can be divided into five major sub-basins – the First Branch, Second Branch, Third Branch, Upper White, and Lower White.

Overall, land use in the White River basin is 1.3% open water and wetlands, 4.6% developed (including the interstate and roads), 8.4% agriculture, and 82.7% forests. The forested landscape is largely responsible for the good water quality in the basin. Many of the areas in the White River basin that are experiencing degraded water quality trends are adjacent to dense road and residential development (Jericho Brook, Third Branch, Ayers Brook, Sunset Lake, and Silver Lake) and agricultural lands (Kingsbury Brook, Second Branch, and First Branch). Managing land use to reduce discharge of polluted runoff and allowing adequate space for treatment can both improve and protect water quality.

A Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL is the calculated maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet Vermont Water Quality Standards. In a broader sense, a TMDL is a plan that identifies the pollutant reductions a waterbody needs to meet Vermont's Water Quality Standards and develops a means to implement those reductions. TMDLs can be calculated for reducing water pollution from specific point source discharges or for an entire watershed to determine the location and amount of needed pollution reductions. 

TMDLs for Basin 9 include:

• 2004 TMDL for 7 Acid Impaired Lakes in Vermont 

• Vermont Statewide Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Bacteria-Impaired Waters 

• Long Island Sound (LIS) Dissolved Oxygen TMDL 

• Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load

Basin 14 comprises multiple sub-basins including the Stevens, Wells, Waits, and Ompompanoosuc Rivers, and five Connecticut River tributaries. The basin stretches south, from Peacham to Hartford, draining portions of Caledonia, Orange, and Windsor Counties and covers significant areas of 17 individual towns.  The Basin 14 Tactical Basin Plan was updated in 2020. Overwhelmingly, the waters in Basin 14 meet or exceed water quality standards.  Yet, there are still 69 river segments, lakes, ponds, and wetlands that were identified for protection or additional monitoring.  Thirteen stressed lake and river segments, 6 impaired lakes and river segments, 3 impaired lakes and river segments with a TMDL, 2 lakes altered by aquatic invasive species.  

The surface and ground waters of Basin 14 run through the copper belt within a calcareous sandy marble bedrock. This bedrock is more susceptible to karst – a special type of landscape eroded by the dissolution of soluble rocks – which can result in sinkholes and caves. While Basin 14 is not known for its sinkholes or underground caves, micro-karst features allow water to readily move underground and form springs. Closer to the Connecticut River, quartz schist and quartzite dominate along with black graphitic phyllite and Ammonoosuc volcanics which are less calcareous. 

The geology of a basin relates to water quality through physical processes such as groundwater seepage and surficial infiltration of precipitation that control baseflows and low-flow conditions. Chemical processes cause water and minerals in bedrock to interact (e.g. weathering of minerals by precipitation, leaching of chemicals into water after mining activities) and water and sediments in surficial geology to interact (e.g. erosion of soils during rain events, erosion of streambanks after gravel extraction). Sometimes this interaction is natural and sometimes it is human caused (e.g. Elizabeth Mine copper pollution). 

The rich sediments deposited by glacial Lake Hitchcock after glaciation and alluvial sedimentation from historic flooding have created river valleys with rich soil utilized by agriculture in the Connecticut River Valley. Because most of the headwaters throughout the basin are heavily forested or narrow, much development and agriculture are located along the rivers where soil is rich and deep, and the topography is flat. This land use pattern can lead to surface water pollution from stormwater runoff close to surface waters and inherently higher flood damage risks from encroachment into the river corridors and floodplains. However, Basin 14 is less susceptible to landslides, the movement downslope of a mass of rock, debris, earth, or soil, and gullies - trenches cut into land by the erosion of an accelerated stream of water, in comparison to the White River or Champlain Valley waterways. 

TMDLs for Basin 14 include: 

Of the thirty-one lakes monitored in Basin 14, poor conditions are reported on only seven lakes. Six poor condition ratings are for invasive species (Martins Pond, Ticklenaked Pond, Round Pond, Halls Lake, Lake Morey, and Lake Fairlee). Two poor conditions ratings are for shoreland and lake habitat (Harveys Lake and Lake Fairlee). One poor condition rating is for nutrient trend (Lake Fairlee). Seven lakes show good conditions for all parameters except for mercury pollution which is reported in fair condition statewide.

The Ompompanoosuc River, in Fairlee and Thetford, is listed as impaired by pathogenic bacteria, indicated by the presence of E. coli, which is an indicator of difficult to detect disease causing microbes. Human produced communities of E. coli are introduced into surface waters from substandard septic systems, runoff from incorrectly applied manure, and runoff from neglected pet waste. VDEC, watershed partners, and local stakeholders continue to implement the Ompompanoosuc bacteria TMDL by identifying and remediating potential agricultural and septic sources through nutrient management planning and septic surveys, and intercepting runoff before it enters the river by expanding and conserving riparian buffers and floodplains.

Basin 10 consists of two major watersheds in southeastern Vermont - the Ottauquechee River watershed and the Black River watershed.  The Ottauquechee River has a mainstem length of 38 miles and drains an area of 223 square miles and the Black River, with a mainstem length of 40 miles, drains an area of 202 square miles. There are 19 lakes and ponds in the Basin that are 20 acres or larger covering approximately 1,610 acres. The North Springfield Reservoir, North Hartland Reservoir, Echo Lake, Lake Rescue, Lake Ninevah, and Woodward Reservoir are the largest bodies of water in Basin 10, each being at least 100 acres in size. The Basin is currently 93.8% undeveloped land while only 6.2% is built. One of the most difficult challenges is due to historical settlement patterns where a large amount of the developed land is in the valleys and along the waterways. The land most impacted by development is the same land most critical to water quality and aquatic habitat condition. 

Tropical Storm Irene concentrated six to ten inches of rain on the narrow river valleys of Basin 10. With soils already saturated from a wet August, the rivers quickly filled to capacity and rose into and beyond their recognized floodplains. With so much standing in their paths, the massive energy ripped out roads, bridges, culverts, and buildings. While all areas of Vermont experienced the storm, Basin 10 is one of the hardest hit areas in the state. The Ottauquechee River discharged over 4000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water at North Hartland, over ten times its normal flow rate. Similarly, the Black River at North Springfield reached 4000 cfs, thirteen times greater than normal.  We can expect to see the intensity and extensiveness of these storms repeated in the future with greater frequency as Vermont’s climate warms.

The most pressing need identified in the TBP was the need for riparian buffers. It is clearly understood that the lack of buffers is a major cause of water quality and habitat problems in the Basin, and that the simplest, most efficient and most cost effective way to improve and protect surface water quality is to implement coordinated buffer improvements throughout the Basin.

Of the nine waters known to be in need of further assessment, seven have sediment as the suspected pollutant. Silt and sediment are by far the most visible causes of water quality problems noted and impact over thirty miles of river and 132 lake acres. Six impacts from flow alteration at the eighty-nine dams cause stress to rivers and streams. Forty-two dams are in use for hydroelectric power generation, flood control, recreational lake impoundments, water supply reservoirs, and other purposes. Many of the remaining dams, however, are obsolete and serve no current purpose. Their presence in rivers and streams blocks aquatic organism passage, prevents sediment from passing downstream, increases water temperature, and causes disequilibrium in the ecological function of the river system. These pollutants - along with pathogens and excess nutrients - are entering rivers from land development, road runoff, removal of riparian vegetation, and a number of other sources. Basin lakes face contamination and threats from atmospheric deposition of mercury, metals, and acid rain, as well as habitat alterations from varying flow levels. Fortunately there are few impaired waters. These include waters impacted by stormwater runoff from resort development, municipal combined sewer overflows and wastewater treatment facilities, and landfill runoff. There is even one successful removal of a stream from the impaired waters list. Soapstone Brook in Ludlow was recently delisted following diligent stormwater management practice implementation in the watershed. 

Emerging Threats


PFAS is the acronym for Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS are a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. These chemicals are used to make household and commercial products that resist heat and chemical reactions and repel oil, stains, grease, and water. PFAS chemicals include PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid).

PFAS chemicals from household and commercial products may find their way into water, soil, and biosolids. As a result, PFAS have been found in people, fish, and wildlife all over the world. Some PFAS do not break down easily and therefore stay in the environment for a very long time, especially in water. Some PFAS can also stay in people’s bodies for a long time.

In response to the contamination of private wells in Bennington and North Bennington discovered in 2016, the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) issued health-based standards for two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, to guide drinking water remediation efforts. Since that time, the VDH has updated those standards to include three additional PFAS compounds. In 2019, the Vermont General Assembly passed and the Governor signed into law Act 21 that directs DEC to use the health advisory level as an interim drinking water standard and to develop a final standard, known as a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). DEC adopted rules in February 2020 to regulate 5 PFAS compounds in all public drinking water systems. As part of Act 21, public water systems around the state began testing for the presence of PFAS. The following systems tested above standards and the locations in bold are located in the WRNRCD and  ONRCD Districts:

• Killington Mountain School (Killington)

• Thetford Academy (Thetford)

• Mount Holly School (Mt Holly)

• Killington Village Inn (Killington)

• Fiddlehead Condominiums (Waitsfield)

In 2019, DEC continued with a broader PFAS investigation, including testing of all biosolids (i.e., sludge meeting pollutant limits and treated for pathogens prior to recycling to the land) produced in Vermont. PFAS was detected in all influent, effluent, and solids samples from these facilities with PFAS in sludges and biosolids averaging 83 ppb (sum of 24 PFAS compounds analyzed) across the facilities tested. With the observation of PFAS contamination in biosolids from Vermont wastewater treatment facilities, DEC then conducted soil and groundwater testing at four agricultural sites permitted for the land application of biosolids and stabilized septage during the late summer/early fall of 2019. In addition, any water supplies within ¼ mile of these sites were tested for PFAS. Based on results from initial testing at land application sites, Vermont DEC directed all land application permittees (18 permittees at the time) to conduct soil and groundwater testing at all permitted sites. Testing began in late 2019 and continued through 2020. Average concentrations of total PFAS in soil across 23 unique land application sites was 16 ppb. Groundwater testing results varied, with approximately 20% of all (downgradient) monitoring wells tested indicating PFAS exceeding the Vermont groundwater enforcement standard. Permittees with sites associated with PFAS above the groundwater enforcement standard were directed to halt land application, retest groundwater to confirm results, and identify and test any water supplies within a quarter mile of the site. PFAS testing of drinking water supplies adjacent to these sites confirmed no detections at or above the groundwater enforcement standard to date from land application. 

In February 2020, ANR released the report, Deriving Ambient Water Quality Standards for the Emerging Chemicals of Concern: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). The report describes the framework ANR uses to establish surface water quality standards, and how this framework may apply to the development of state-specific water quality standards to protect both human health and aquatic life from PFAS. Developing water quality standards for PFAS would represent ANR’s first undertaking to establish water quality standards for a group of chemical contaminants that currently are not included in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water Act Section 304(a) National Recommended Water Quality Criteria. 

PFAS Roadmap (ANR) 2021


Vermont must prepare for a changing climate and cut its climate pollution.  To meet the target in Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act, carbon and methane emissions need to be reduced by half by 2030.  To do this, Vermont will need to prioritize helping the people who will be most affected by climate change.

The Legislature established the Vermont Climate Council to draft a Climate Action Plan. As they drafted the plan, the Climate Council incorporated ideas and feedback from a wide range of Vermonters. In addition, the Climate Council developed this plan in coordination with the State of Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan (released November 2021), which details energy opportunities and challenges for the State. Five subcommittees shaped the plan: Rural Resilience and Adaptation, Agriculture and Ecosystems, Cross Sector Mitigation, Just Transitions, and Science and Data.

Based on current trends and modeling, it is expected that Vermont will be faced with:

Climate Change Vermont  


The term wetland refers to those areas of the state that are inundated by surface or ground water with a frequency sufficient to support plants and animals that depend on saturated or seasonally saturated soil conditions for growth and reproduction. These areas are commonly known as ponds, bogs, fens, marshes, wet meadows, shrub swamps, and forested wetlands. In Vermont, over 230,000 acres, or 4% of the land area in the state, have been identified as wetlands on the Vermont Significant Wetlands Inventory (VSWI) Map. Studies have shown that up to 39% of Vermont wetlands may not be mapped. In addition, more than 35% of the original wetlands in Vermont have been lost. In recent years, residential, commercial, and industrial development have been the primary causes of wetland loss.

While conservation and protection of wetlands are critical for preventing continued loss of our remaining intact wetlands, wetland restoration is essential for rehabilitating those that have already been degraded or lost. Wetland restoration goals include assessing areas of prior converted wetland and hydric soils for restoration projects.  As sites and opportunities are identified, implementing those restoration projects is an important step to help reverse past damage. Implementing wetland restoration and conservation projects also need to be prioritized where water pollution reduction and flood protection projects are identified. Recommendations for wetland protection and restoration can be found in the Stream Geomorphic Assessments and River Corridor Plans that have been developed for most of the rivers and streams in Vermont.

2014 VT Wetlands 101 publication

 VT ANR Wetlands Restoration Webpage