LCC Helps BFA St. Albans Stay Ahead of the Storm

Stormwater poses a major challenge for water quality in Lake Champlain. When rain falls on impervious surfaces, it does not have the chance to infiltrate into the ground and instead flows over roofs, parking lots, and roads—collecting pollutants and nutrients along the way—until it eventually reaches the lake, untreated. Runoff from developed land contributes more phosphorus to Lake Champlain than any other land use type per area. As the intensity and frequency of heavy precipitation events increases with climate change, efforts to mitigate stormwater runoff are increasingly critical. 

LCC has done extensive stormwater reduction and education work at schools throughout the watershed over the years including producing a stormwater education manual, conducting storm drain stenciling projects with educational facilities and municipalities, undertaking stormwater assessments, and collaborating with Lake Champlain Sea Grant (LCSG) to develop the Soaking Up Stormwater Curriculum Guide.

Location, location, location

Schools provide ideal locations for both educational work and stormwater reduction efforts given their central role within communities. Many of them also have extensive areas of impervious surface from large buildings and parking lots. Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans Vermont (BFA St. Albans) was a particularly apt setting for LCC to pilot our 2023 school stormwater reduction project (funded through a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program) because of its proximity to Stevens Brook, a stream designated as an impaired waterway by the State of Vermont, and St. Albans Bay, an area with high levels of phosphorus and frequency of cyanobacteria blooms. We teamed up with school staff and students along with LCSG to assess conditions and develop a project to address the most challenging on-site stormwater issues at the school’s campus in downtown St. Albans. 

BFA science teachers Paul Brown, Dan Plimpton, and Caroline Schlutius and their students joined LCC Education and Outreach Associate Eileen Fitzgerald, Executive Director Lori Fisher, and Lake Champlain Sea Grant Green Infrastructure Collaborative Coordinator Jill Sarazen on campus site tours in the pouring rain to follow the flow of water. Students also provided input from their personal experiences of moving around campus during and after precipitation events which helped identify “the Connector”—a hallway built in 2019 to link the North and South campus buildings—as a key problem area. The Connector sits on a slope and has no gutters so stormwater flows directly from the roof to grass. The grassed area surrounding the Connector was on highly compacted and eroded soil, so it did little to retain stormwater. During precipitation events, runoff would collect sediments from the soil and flow over sidewalks and parking lots on both sides of the building. The incline of land around the Connector shed water away from the building at high velocity. On the west side of the Connector, the closest storm drain was at the end of the Connector, so all stormwater that flowed to the west side had a large area to collect pollutants before reaching Stevens Brook.

Hands-on learning

LCC and LCSG staff introduced students to green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) principles and involved them in coming up with ways to reduce stormwater on campus. GSI seeks to slow down, spread out, and soak up stormwater, often by mimicking natural, pervious ground cover. In what was truly a hands-on project, students were involved with all aspects of the work from percolation tests and measuring and marking the locations for remediation, to digging portions of the infiltration trenches and assisting with native plantings. To capture precipitation from the gutter-less roof and let it infiltrate the ground instead of run off into the parking lot and sidewalk we installed 30 inch-deep infiltration trenches dug below the edge of the roof (in the dripline) filled with small stones. The spaces between the stone allow for more water to soak in when compared to hard, compacted soil which holds little water. The trenches were lined with fabric on the sides to prevent erosion, but left bare underneath to encourage infiltration. 

Plants for stormwater

We also planted sections of the campus grounds with native perennials—including switchgrass, shrubby cinquefoil, ninebark (a type of flowering shrub), hydrangea, clethra, echinacea, and black-eyed Susan. These species are salt-tolerant (a necessity due to the plants’ proximity to sidewalks and parking lots who have a regular salting regiment in the winter), pollinator-friendly, and native to the region. A diversity of native plants can play a key role in reducing runoff because their roots stabilize soil and host a whole biome of soil microbes. By preventing erosion, plants help keep nutrients that become pollutants in water such as phosphorus in the soil and soak up phosphorus-laden water into their tissue for growth. The gardens of natives we planted are not only aesthetic, they serve as another line of defense in stormwater reduction at BFA St. Albans.

Thank you BFA St. Albans!

LCC is deeply grateful for the enthusiastic engagement of the faculty, staff, and students at BFA St. Albans and Maddocks Landscaping for their help installing three infiltration trenches and 65 native plants to slow down, spread out, and soak up stormwater.  

Helping other schools stay “Ahead of the Storm”

LCC plans to continue this stormwater education and reduction work at schools throughout the Lake Champlain Basin especially in disadvantaged communities. If you have an idea for a collaborative project or know of a school in need, please contact LCC Education & Outreach Associate Eileen Fitzgerald at eileenf@