Challenges & Solutions
The White River and its associated waters exhibit exceptionally good water quality based on the water’s ability to support aquatic biota and habitat. As determined by a 1997 assessment by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, almost 70% of the river and stream miles fully support aquatic biota and habitat, about 23% of the miles are threatened by some pollutant, condition or activity, and just over 7% of the miles do not fully support aquatic biota and habitat. The miles described as not fully supporting uses are degraded by sedimentation, thermal modification, turbidity, nutrients, or pathogens or a combination. The sources of these problems include – in alphabetical order – agricultural land use, channelization, developed land runoff, dredging, land development, natural sources, road maintenance, and streambank de-stabilization.
Of the five most prevalent water quality problems in the White River watershed, sedimentation, turbidity and thermal modification cause the most significant impacts to water quality, resulting in adverse effects on aquatic biota (fish and aquatic insects). Sedimentation is the accumulation of fine particles or soils on the bottom of a water body and turbidity is the measure of suspended fine particles in the water column. Thermal modification refers to an increased surface water temperature due to human disturbance. In the watershed, these water quality problems are largely the result of streams that are unstable or lack a sufficient cover of trees and shrubs along its banks (riparian buffer).
Stream channel instability and lack of riparian buffers result for the most part from cumulative human disturbances, including flood plain encroachments, alteration of riparian vegetation, channelization, wetland drainage, urbanization and in-stream gravel mining. The associated impacts from new development, due to expanded growth in the area, have the potential to result in further disturbances on stream corridors.
Excess amounts of plant nutrients also degrade water quality in the White River watershed. High levels of nutrients cause aquatic plants, especially algae, to grow in much greater densities than the aquatic system can normally support. The increased growth may reduce swimming and boating opportunities, create a foul taste and odor in drinking water, and kill fish. Agricultural sources of nutrients include fertilizers, manure and crop residues. Lawn runoff, pet waste, erosion, atmospheric deposition, sludge, and septic systems are urban sources of nutrients that are carried to surface waters in stormwater runoff.
Pathogens are any disease-causing organism, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. The pathogens of concern in Vermont’s surface waters are those that are associated with fecal matter of humans and other warm-blooded animals. These pathogens cause gastrointestinal problems and become a more serious health risk to people who have weakened immune systems. In surface waters, the most likely source of human waste or sewage is from a malfunctioning wastewater treatment plant or septic system. Sources of animal waste are highest in urban and agricultural areas. Wildlife that resides in the water, such as beaver and ducks, can also contribute pathogens.
To address both local concerns and general water quality problems, the White River Partnership and others have been working to reduce stream channel instability and streambank erosion, improve public access to waters, improve water quality awareness, and reduce impacts to fisheries. Follow these links to learn more about Our Programs and how to Get Involved!