Report says pollution in Lake Champlain remains high

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(Host) A new report shows that phosphorus pollution remains high in sections of Lake Champlain.

Phosphorus is a nutrient that feeds the toxic algae blooms that have plagued the lake’s shallow bays.

Today’s study comes from the "Lake Champlain Basin Program." It says that in spite of 16 years of work, there’s little improvement.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) There was good news on a couple of fronts. Levels of toxic PCBs have declined. And beaches were closed relatively few times last summer because of high algae or bacteria counts.

But there was little progress on addressing the phosphorus pollution that causes the most damage to the lake.

Phosphorus is a nutrient contained in sewage and in urban and farm run-off. It feeds the blooms of toxic algae that have choked some of the lakes northern bays.

The report says phosphorus concentrations continue to be high in most parts of lake Champlain. Missisquoi Bay, the south lake and the Northeast Arm all exceed target levels.

Julie Moore directs the state’s Clean and Clear program for Lake Champlain. She says she’s not surprised by the report.

(Moore) There are a lot of corrections that need to be made on the landscape that will eventually show themselves in the lake. And right now we’re working hard on those landscape measures. But it’s not unexpected that they have yet to show themselves in terms of improved lake water quality.

(Dillon) The state has decided to focus most of its $85 million lake clean up program on cutting non-point sources of phosphorus, instead of getting more reductions from sewage treatment plants. Moore says the report backs up the state’s approach.

(Moore) And while we have an enormous amount of resources at our disposal, they aren’t unlimited. And we need to set priorities. And from my vantage point, the state of the lake report confirms that prioritizing non point source pollution is the right priority.

(Dillon) But a leading environmental group says the report calls into question what Vermont has achieved with its $85 million program. Anthony Iarrapino is with the Conservation Law Foundation. He says the state need to ratchet down pollution from sewage plants as well.

(Iarrapino) At a time when the data shows we haven’t achieved any significant reductions, despite significant taxpayer funding for the clean up, we just can’t afford to let pollution increase from any source. And I’m concerned that pollution across the board -whether it’s stormwater from poorly managed agriculture or from wastewater – is increasing, and is schedule to increase unless and until we do everything that the law requires…

(Dillon) The report drew a political reaction as well. House Speaker Gaye Symington – the Democratic candidate for governor – said Governor Jim Douglas has failed to set clear benchmarks to see whether the Clean and Clear program is working.

But a statement from the Douglas Administration says the report doesn’t take into account the innovative clean up plans the state has put in place.

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

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