Governor Shumlin, Commissioner Mears release Lake Champlain cleanup plan

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Governor Shumlin, Commissioner Mears release Lake Champlain cleanup plan

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 3:15pm -- tim

Governor Peter Shumlin and Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears today released the Phase One Plan establishing the steps that Vermont will take to reduce the phosphorus load into Lake Champlain. That Plan and a letter from the governor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy were forwarded to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“As the sixth largest freshwater lake in the United States, and the source of vital economic, recreational, and cultural opportunities, Lake Champlain is a water of critical importance to Vermont, the region and our nation,” Gov. Shumlin wrote in the letter to McCarthy. “We share the nation’s interest in returning this treasured water body to full health.”

But, the governor cautioned, Vermont’s rural geography and small population base dictates a targeted, results-based plan that includes funding from a broad range of sources, including federal, state and local government, developers, the farm community, and others. Shumlin has met with McCarthy and US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to outline the Vermont-specific Phase One Plan and stress the importance of federal support.

The Plan was required by the EPA under the federal Clean Water Act. Unlike more populated regions, a rural state like Vermont cannot point the finger at major industrial plants or large cities to solve our water pollution challenges -- we have to be innovative and strategic.  Vermont’s Plan is carefully focused on finding cost-effective solutions with measurable improvement.  The ultimate goal is reduction of phosphorous in Lake Champlain.

“This comprehensive Plan will improve the tributaries to the lake, and make real progress toward reducing phosphorous in Lake Champlain lake itself, which is not only the right thing to do, but also the required thing to do,” Gov. Shumlin said. “I appreciate that Vermont’s proposals are designed to get the greatest return on investment, and are based on science rather than hope.”

“I have been pleased and impressed with the willingness of Vermonters to roll up their sleeves to find common sense ways to reduce water pollution,” said Vermont Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears.  “This Plan reflects some of the best thinking of experts but also reflects great suggestions we have received over the past year from farmers, business owners, town and city officials, and an array of Vermont citizens committed to doing their part to addressing our shared interest in clean water.”

The Plan includes proposals that impact agriculture (the largest source of phosphorous in the lake), transportation, river stability, and development. In addition, it includes other components that address the remainder of the phosphorus load, including improving forest harvesting practices, restoring and conserving wetlands, protecting lake shorelands, and expanding state funding for local and regional stormwater pollution management programs.

“We recognize that the transportation sector is a part of the problem and needs to be a part of the solution. said Transportation Secretary Brian Searles. "VTrans has worked closely with the Agency of Natural Resources to develop an innovative approach to treat runoff from state roads by streamlining our environmental process through a single-permit approach."

The Friends of Northern Lake Champlain, a grassroots organization working on water quality in the Champlain Basin, is optimistic about the direction the state of Vermont is embarking on with the new Plan, according to FNLC Executive Director Denise Smith.

“We have been advocating for resources to help reduce phosphorous loads to Lake Champlain from stormwater and agriculture for over a decade and we are overjoyed to see the state and the EPA’s strong focus on reducing erosion by addressing non-point source pollution,” Smith said. “We will have no improvement in Lake Champlain without a comprehensive focus on the quality of the surface waters and reducing the nutrients and sediment flowing into it.”  

“Vermont dairy producers are taking this seriously, collaborating more than ever before with state agencies,” said Jane Clifford, Executive Director of the Green Mountain Dairy Farmers and partner in the Clifford Farm. “Farmers from all size operations are taking active roles in discussions, outreach and education. The farming community knows it needs to be part of the solution and be completely committed to the goal, implementing programs such as small farm nutrient management plans and livestock exclusion projects that benefit water quality.”

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross agreed, adding, “The Agency has been pleased to work with its sister Agencies and the farm and agricultural community to develop the Plan being submitted by the Governor.  This represents a positive collaborative effort of many stakeholders in the Vermont community. The Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets is pleased to be part of this significant effort to improve the water quality in Lake Champlain and its basin.”

Tom Torti, President of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, stated that this plan is a step in the right direction.

“Implementing changes that ensure that Lake Champlain will remain healthy are important to our economy and our quality of life,” Torti said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the State as they implement the Plan and on developing sustainable funding for these initiatives."

Karen Horn, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said her organization has worked closely with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to develop an effective plan for cleaning up Lake Champlain.

“It will take a long time, millions of dollars and efforts by every contributing sector to get the job done,” Horn said. “We applaud DEC’s focus on first reducing phosphorus loads from non-point sources, which will produce the most significant reductions by far, and looking to target efforts in the most affected sections of the lake.”

Gov. Shumlin welcomed the collaboration. “Lake Champlain will require an all-hands-on-deck effort involving adjoining state and international partners, the EPA and other federal agencies, municipalities, developers, private philanthropic groups, and all of the citizens of Vermont,” the Governor said in his letter to McCarthy. “I will be proud to lead this partnership, and I commit to seeking the resources and funding necessary to implement this Plan.”

Source: Governor's office. 5.29.2014. PHOTO by Katie Kittell, Vermont Business Magazine.