New Pollution Reduction Goals Revealed for Lake Champlain

Environmental leaders from Vermont and the federal government unveiled a new target Friday for reducing phosphorous pollution in Lake Champlain.

Vermont is pledging to trim phosphorous by about a third overall in the waterways that feed into the lake on the Vermont side. There are different target levels in each of the 12 waterways. The approach will be to cut runoff that reaches the lake from roads, farms, and wastewater treatment plants.

"All of us who work, reside, vacation, or recreate in the lake landscape contribute to the problem," said Curt Spalding, the regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Vermont leaders said Lake Champlain is a major driver of the state's economy, key to attracting businesses to locate here, and key to convincing travelers to visit. Phosphorous can give the lake's reputation a black eye, though, by fouling the water, feeding algae growth, and even blocking beach access and sometimes fostering toxic bacteria.

The EPA's long-term goal is to see the removal of hundreds of tons of phosphorous from the waterways that pour into the lake.

"I think the devil is in the details," said Christopher Kilian of the Conservation Law Foundation, who has long pushed for an aggressive lake cleanup plan.

Kilian said the CLF will be studying the new goals during a 30-day public comment period.

"This cleanup can't take decades," Kilian said. "People are done with dirty water in Lake Champlain."

Public meetings to discuss the draft goals are scheduled for August 26 in St. Albans, and August 27 in Burlington and Rutland. For more information on those meetings, as well as for links to the documents that describe the cleanup goals, visit this website.

The administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, acknowledged it will be costlier to build highway infrastructure that meets higher standards for runoff. Developers may have to adjust building plans, too. But Shumlin insisted the future of the lake is well worth it.

"The most expensive thing we can do is nothing," Shumlin warned.

Deb Markowitz, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and Chuck Ross, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said their agencies are already working with municipalities and farmers to share knowledge on how to reduce the impact of runoff and erosion that dump water containing phosphorous into streams and rivers that feed Lake Champlain.

The plan will take millions and millions of dollars. Funding sources include new fees on farmers and developers for a state Clean Water Fund, federal money from the USDA, and corporate donations. Gov. Shumlin noted Keurig Green Mountain pledged $5-million to the effort.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, issued this statement following the release of the phosphorous plan for the lake: "Since this plan first came into development, we have seen a powerful, positive and renewed focus on water quality across Vermont. This is an important federal, state and local commitment; we have all witnessed water quality problems, with algae staining our northern bays even today." 

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