Audit: lake clean up program unsuccessful

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(Host) The state’s major effort to clean up Lake Champlain has not yet yielded results.

That’s according to an audit of the program ordered by the Legislature.

But the Agency of Natural Resources says it’s doing a better job in using state money to get improvements.

VPR’s John Dillon has more

(Dillon) Ken Jones is one of the experts the state hired last year to conduct an audit of the $65 million dollar Lake Champlain Clean and Clear program.

He used a football analogy to describe

the mixed results so far.

Jones said the state gained ground by reducing phosphorus pollution from sewage treatment plants. But the state lost yards on subsequent efforts – such as cutting pollution from farm fields and cleaning the dirty stormwater that washes off city streets.

(Jones) "We had our second down play, which was the non-point. We got thrown for a loss. Okay? It’s now third down. There isn’t a third down play. I think that’s where we are now. I think that’s where the Center for Clean and Clear is. They have to come up with a third down play."

(Dillon) Phosphorus acts as a fertilizer that feeds the algae blooms that have troubled the lake. The audit says phosphorus levels in the lake are still increasing.

The state is trying to follow a plan approved by the Environmental Protection Agency that sets a total maximum daily load of the pollutant – or TMDL.

(Jones) "The TMDL strategy if applied as it was laid out in 2002 will not get us the phosphorus reduction that we need to see in the lake. We’ve got to do something different. We’ve got to come up with a third down play."

(Dillon) Football analogies aside, Jones said there was no evidence that the Clean and Clear program money is being misused.

And he said the additional spending over the years has allowed the state to provide new technical support, and expand its clean-up efforts.

Julie Moore directs the state’s Clean and Clear center. She says the state has made progress in addressing one of the audit’s concerns: a lack of coordination between various state programs.

(Moore) "I feel like we put a really strong system into place to start to address those issues. And frankly, those are the ones that can be addressed the most quickly."

(Dillon) Moore said one reason for the lack of progress in reducing phosphorus is that Vermont has experienced wetter years lately. She says more water flowing across the landscape means more phosphorus in the lake.

And she says the human impact on the landscape is changing. Agriculture, forestry and development patterns are shifting.

(Moore) "So it’s this dynamic system so it’s hard to get that noise out of the equation. That’s certainly an important piece, too. But we think in the long term the practices and programs we’ve put in place really are important in terms of improving water quality and reducing phosphorus loads."

(Dillon) The hearing on the clean up program came as the legislature is once again addressing Lake Champlain issues.

Lawmakers are under pressure to roll back a law that requires sewage treatment plants to hold pollution at 2006 levels.

But environmentalists say that would be a vote for a dirtier lake.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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