Group Says State Fails To Protect Water

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(Host) An environmental group says the state has failed to crack down on water pollution from large farms and a sewage treatment plant.

The Conservation Law Foundation says that since the state isn’t doing the job, the federal government should take over the clean water permit program.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Only a short drive from the state capitol, a dairy farm makes a picturesque scene on a hill just above the Winooski River in Middlesex.

Chris Kilian, Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation, says the picture is less pretty for the river’s water quality.

(Kilian) "The barns and barnyard associated with this farm is a stone’s throw away from the Winooski River. There’s inadequate drainage control, inadequate protection of the river ultimately from the runoff coming off of those barns. And they had a problem where manure and other contaminants, leachate, was draining off the barnyard right down hill into the Winooski River from a stream. And it’s not unusual."  

(Dillon) This farm and a dozen others are cited in a CLF legal petition.

The environmental group pored through the state’s own records to show that although the state often identifies environmental problems on farms, it has failed to crack down on polluters or issue discharge permits that the Clean Water Act requires. The issues CLF identified range from streams flowing through barnyards to – in one case – waste water leaching from a facility that composts dead animals.

(Kilian) "What we found that where the state has gone to look they have found pollution flowing off of farms. And what we don’t see is the response, we don’t see a permitting program that would prevent that."

(Dillon) Jonathan Wood is Vermont secretary of natural resources. He says this is a familiar litany of complaints from CLF.

And he says the state has taken steps to control farm waste from reaching streams and Lake Champlain.

(Wood) "I think they’re not interpreting the way the law needs to be enforced the same way EPA or we do. And that seems to bear itself out in how we’ve looked at many of these cases. We think we’re abiding by the law and we’re working towards compliance every time we have an issue."

(Dillon) But the environmental group wants the Environmental Protection Agency to take over the state’s main water pollution permit program.

Chris Kilian says the state receives millions of dollars every year from the federal government to run the pollution control effort.

(Kilian) "And the way the Clean Water Act works, states can take the program on but they have to meet certain standards that the EPA sets on a national level for protecting waterways from pollution. So the state can’t really have it both ways. The state can’t say we’re going to maintain this program – and take all of that federal money from taxpayers – and then not implement the program."  

(Dillon) The Conservation Law Foundation also highlighted problems with a sewage treatment plant in Waterbury.

Kilian says the Waterbury plant is the largest single point source for phosphorus pollution going into the lake’s watershed.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.

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