CLF charges administration has relaxed water permits

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(Host) An environmental group says the Douglas administration is not doing enough to reduce phosphorus pollution in northern Lake Champlain. The Conservation Law Foundation says draft permits for sewage treatment plants allows phosphorus levels above limits set by the U.S. Environmental protection Agency.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Missisquoi Bay in northern Lake Champlain was hit hard this summer with an outbreak of blue-green algae, an organism that’s toxic to people and animals. The algae blooms are caused by excessive nutrients in the water. The phosphorus pollution from farms and sewage treatment plants acts like a fertilizer that feeds the microscopic plants.

The phosphorus levels in Missisquoi Bay exceed water quality standards. And the state Agency of Natural Resources agreed with the Environmental Protection Agency to cut phosphorus from many sources in the Lake Champlain basin.

But the Conservation Law Foundation says that state permits for sewage treatment plants in Swanton, North Troy and Enosburg Falls exceed the levels approved by the EPA. Rob Moore runs the environmental group’s “lake keeper” program.

(Moore) “So for us, it’s kind of inexplicable why Vermont ANR, who’s committed to helping these communities reduce the amount of phosphorus that they’re discharging, is not requiring those reductions in their permits.”

(Dillon) The province of Quebec closed many beaches on its side of Missisquoi Bay because of the toxic algae. Governor Jim Douglas says state officials plan to work with their Canadian counterparts to aggressively clean up the lake.

But Moore says the state must first move forward on the existing clean up plan. That plan sets total maximum daily loads for phosphorus for, known as TMDLs.

(Moore) “As far as we can tell the one plan that does exist, which is the Lake Champlain Phosphorus TMDL, they’re actively avoiding their responsibilities. So if I was a government official in Quebec, I think I’d want to know, what are you doing right now under the plan you already have approved from your federal Environmental Protection Agency?”

(Dillon) Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg says that some of the treatment plants are allowed by state law to discharge the higher amounts of phosphorus. He says the state tried to get Swanton to voluntarily lower its phosphorus limits, but the town declined.

Wennberg also blames the Conservation Law Foundation for part of the problem. He says the group appealed a permit for the Enosburg Falls sewage treatment plant.

(Wennberg) “And it’s interesting that the only thing preventing the reduction of the discharges on that plant from being lowered to the TMDL is the CLF appeal. If CLF would just drop its appeal we could immediately impose the lower discharge limits. But CLF is obstructing, tightening up that permit by their appeal.”

(Dillon) But CLF says they challenged the permit, because the limits for the Enosburg plant aren’t low enough.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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