Where does all that water go after it flows into the storm drain or grate near you? Water entering storm drains often flows into nearby wetlands or streams with no treatment of the runoff. If that water has sediment—salt from roads and parking lots, or other pollutants in it—it contaminates Lake Champlain, which can contribute to unhealthy conditions, including toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms and fish die-offs.

The Lewis Creek Association’s (LCA) Ahead of the Storm (AOTS) program goal is to showcase examples of positive land stewardship throughout the middle Lake Champlain Valley region. AOTS strives to not only meet current water quality standards and permits but surpass them when site conditions allow. These “optimal conservation practices” (OCPs) act as a strategy for climate adaptation by treating larger volumes of stormwater that are anticipated with climate change.

AOTS has 15 locations around the middle Lake Champlain Valley that display these optimal conservation practices. LCA worked closely with engineers to assess these properties and come up with designs for treatment. To expand the program, LCA has educated community members and teachers about how to do these assessments and designs themselves and to teach local students about stormwater and the AOTS program.
To this end, LCA applied for and was awarded a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to fund an engineer’s time to train community members and teachers on the process for assessing a property, designing fixes and teaching students about these topics. Seventeen people, including teachers and staff from CVU, CCS, SCS, Lake Champlain Waldorf School, VT Day School and Shelburne Farms attended these trainings. As part of this training, a series of PowerPoint presentations were developed to be used by teachers to educate their students and by community members to assess their own property. These materials explain the basics of the water cycle, water pollution, identifying stormwater problem areas and options for improvements, and are available on LCA’s website at lewiscreek.org/aots-education-materials.

The engineer (Jessica Louisos of Milone & MacBroom) and I made multiple visits to classrooms at Shelburne Community School, Charlotte Central School (CCS), and Champlain Valley Union High School to educate students and teachers and involve them in the design process for stormwater improvement projects to be built at Champlain Valley School District campuses next summer, Funded by LCA and the Lake Champlain Basin Program. This mirrors the process for student/engineer collaboration on the design for the raingarden that was built in front of Shelburne Community School this past summer.

“It’s so valuable to bring experts into the classroom to share their expertise with students,” said CCS teacher Christa Duthie-Fox, who has involved her students in developing the CCS campus as an AOTS for several years. “Kate and Jessica were able to give an overview of the watershed work they do, then take our students outside to identify areas on our school campus where stormwater runoff is a problem.”

LCA hopes to find funding soon to advance one project on the campus to a final design, in preparation for building it and improving stormwater runoff problems. Christa continued, “Our sixth graders are excited to think they may be working with Lewis Creek Association and engineers from Milone & MacBroom to design a solution to stop the flooding and erosion on our school grounds, specifically on their playground after heavy rainfall events.”

Finally, LCA, in conjunction with Responsible Growth Hinesburg and the Hinesburg Planning Commission, held the 6th Water Matters community forum to present some of the information developed through this grant, as well as information on how to design and maintain private roads and driveways to reduce water quality impacts, reduce ongoing maintenance costs and reduce storm damage. You can view the entire event thanks to VCAM, and view the presentations and additional materials regarding water quality and road erosion on Lewis Creek Association’s website.

Kate Kelly is the program manager for the Lewis Creek Association.