Lake Champlain cleanup to take 10 years

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(Host) It will take at least 10 years to clean up Lake Champlain.

That’s according to a new plan from the Agency of Natural Resources that focuses attention on cutting pollution in the northern part of the lake.

The ten-year time frame is a retreat from the state’s previous goal, which called for reaching pollution reduction targets by 2009.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The problem in the big lake is basically too much of what’s usually a good thing.

Phosphorus is a key element for life. But tons of extra phosphorus flows into the lake from farm fields and dirty city streets. The phosphorus then acts as fertilizer, and triggers algae blooms that choke off the lake’s shallow bays.

So four years ago Governor Jim Douglas said he wanted to accelerate clean up of the lake. His target was 2009, a date set to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the voyage of French explorer Samuel de Champlain.

Now a new plan from the Agency of Natural resources says it will take a decade or more to fully reach the state’s clean up goals.

Julie Moore is a state engineer who directs the Clean and Clear program for the lake. She says the plan is not a retreat.

(Moore) "And so really what we’re doing is kind of assessing where we are. We have a number of activities, programs and projects that are in place and ongoing. They’ve put us on a certain trajectory. And we’re checking to see if that’s going to get us to where we want to be in the time frame we want to arrive."

(Dillon) Moore says the state needs to focus on three watersheds in the northern lake where phosphorus pollution is the worst.

(Moore) "We hope by working at this smaller watershed scale we should be able to show real measurable progress in the short term."

(Dillon) The plan doesn’t call for new state regulations, or new state money. It says Vermont can leverage federal dollars to help farmers, for example, control manure run-off from dairy operations.

Environmentalists say there’s much more Vermont can do using existing law. Chris Kilian directs the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation. He says the biggest source of phosphorus is stormwater run-off. So he says the state should target businesses whose property causes the pollution to run into the lake.

(Kilian) "The taxpayers are not responsible for cleaning up pollution from developments that are being built by for-profit developers. ANR should not be limiting what it’s doing to address the stormwater run-off problem by looking to taxpayers to pick up the bill for developers."

(Dillon) In the last legislative session, lawmakers looked at the slow pace of progress on Lake Champlain. The state is on track to spend about $65 million on the lake by next year. Lawmakers wanted to know what’s been done for that money. So they ordered an audit of the state’s Lake Champlain Clean and Clear Program.

The audit is not yet underway. It’s due in January; although officials say a contractor should be hired by the end of the month. Chittenden Senator Virginia Lyons, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, wonders if that leaves enough time for a comprehensive look at the program.

(Lyons) "I’m now getting to be a little skeptical. It’s already September. And getting someone on board and then becoming familiar with the program and looking at all the expenditures over time – that’s a tall order to expect within a few months."

(Dillon) The new Lake Champlain plan shows that phosphorus clean up targets are not being met in the northern lake.

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

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