Storm water runoff is the product of impervious surfaces which prevent rain and snowmelt to soak into the ground naturally. The excess of water either flows into a storm water system and is then discharged into the water supply or it enters one of Chittenden County’s surface water bodies, e.g. our great Lake Champlain, the Winooski River or the Arrowhead Mountain Lake.
The effects of this extra water intake can be manifold. The different pollutants which the excess water picks up on its journey can cause additional side effects.
“Urbanization dramatically alters the natural hydrologic cycle.” 
The more impervious areas we create, the higher the volume and rate of water runoff and the type and amount of pollutants that ends up in our surface waters. At the same time, groundwater recharge decreases, which is a problem as it reduces dry weather flows mostly in wetlands and also rivers.
When urban storm water runoff is uncontrolled, potential impacts on our environment are adverse. Channelization and erosion can lead to the destructions of aquatic habitat among other consequences.
Effects on Wetlands, Rivers, Lakes
Wetlands in particular receive large amounts of storm water due to their unique position on the landscape. They too have limited capacities for handling storm water volume including pollutants. An overload is likely to lead to dramatic alteration of the entire aquatic ecosystem.
Oil, grease, chemicals, nutrients, metals and bacteria that flow into Lake Champlain have the biggest impact on the surrounding wetlands that are a vital part of the basin’s entire ecosystem.
Potential consequences are the loss of typical plant species which get replaced by weeds and other foreign plants, increased levels of phosphorus and lead in plant tissue, and entire changes in vegetation dynamics.
The wetlands play a major role in maintaining and improving downstream water quality. This is why it’s important to mitigate the impacts of runoff and pollutants that include biological, physical and chemical changes. Possible solutions are:
- Diverting storm water flow around wetlands
- Limiting peak flows by limiting urbanization
- Treating storm water before it enters surface waters
We must not forget that anything that enters a storm water system is usually discharged into the waterways without prior treatment – the same waterways that we use for our drinking water supply, for fishing and for recreational activities. Depending on the local industry and intensity of agriculture, dangerous pollutants can end up in the water intended for direct consumption.
As individuals there is not much that we can do to improve the quality of an entire water body or water system. We can make sure to dispose of products properly, always pick up pet waste, keep our yards clean at all times, and only use garden fertilizers/pesticides when absolutely necessary.
On a smaller scale, however, we have a great deal of influence on the quality of water that we receive and use day to day.
- A whole house water filtration system cleanses all the water entering your home before it gets distributed to the various water outlets. It is recommended that you conduct a quality test before you settle for a specific type or product. With water filters, micron ratings should be your main focus.
- A water softener removes excessive amounts of mineral salts. These can damage pipes or tubing. Salt-based water softeners that add large amounts of sodium to water are better to be avoided.
- Boiling water is an effective method for reducing volatile solutes.
- Ultraviolet light filters destroy germs that originate from manure.
Effects on Aquatic Life
The major short-term and long-term effects of storm water discharges and urban sediment on aquatic life include:
- Lack of diversity in the aquatic community. The habitat is likely to be dominated by pollution-tolerant species, e.g. mosquitofish.
- Unstable water bed conditions.
- Rapidly changing water flow without refuge areas to protect all the plant and animal life.
- Reduction of organic debris as an important building block of refuge areas.
- Accumulation of silt in both spawning and food production areas.
- Vanishing riparian vegetation that leads to elevated water temperatures.
With increasing urbanization comes the danger of producing storm water that does not get the chance to soak into the ground. Instead the excess water enters our supply systems and surface waters, which causes overload and pollution. The consequences include an alteration or even destruction of aquatic life and entire ecosystems and an overall decrease in water quality. As individuals we can and should take specific countermeasures.
 Long-term meaning 5 to 10 years