On hot summer days, when blue-green algae coats the shoreline of places like Missisquoi Bay and swimming is off limits, Vermonters are reminded of the major pollution problems affecting Lake Champlain.
Lawmakers were reminded Wednesday that the state has a long way to go to fix the problem.
"Everyone acknowledges there is a problem that we need to fix. The real question in my mind is how quickly we get to a resolution in solving this problem and the longer we put it off, the longer it will take to solve it," said David Mears, the commissioner of the Vt. Department of Environmental Conservation.
The state is now working with the EPA to develop the latest restoration plan for the lake-- a stricter TMDL or Total Maximum Daily Load of phosphorus allowed as part of the Federal Clean Water Act. In addition to municipal wastewater plants, phosphorus gets into the lake from a number of nonpoint sources. Everything from stormwater running off a parking lot and manure leaching from a farm field to poor logging practices. While the feds regulate point sources like municipal wastewater treatment plants, it's up to the state to come up with a solution for the countless other nonpoint sources, which are 95 percent of the problem.
"Those are where EPA is most concerned that we get assurance that the reductions that are in that part of the equation will actually happen," said Steve Perkins of the Environmental Protection Agency.
State agencies from Agriculture to Transportation say they're committed to making progress.
"We have many farmers in the state of Vermont that are already introducing, already utilizing better and improved and advanced practices from manure injection to making sure their waterways are grassed so that they don't have any gully erosion," Vt. Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said.
"The Agency of Transportation has steadily increased our investment in clean water which involves millions of dollars into our programs and into our highway systems," Vt. Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said.
The Conservation Law Foundation sued the EPA several years ago saying it wasn't doing enough to enforce the Clean Water Act. They say the state needs to better enforce the clean water rules on the books.
"We know where the pollution is coming from, we know the kinds of things that need to get done to take care of that problem, and what we're looking for are real commitments and real leadership from the governor," said Chris Killian of the Conservation Law Foundation.
Lawmakers are currently debating two water quality bills, but they say federal dollars won't take care of it all.
"We will need state dollars, and that's-- we've got to move that as part of this agenda, and there is some tension with the governor's office," said Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster.
Administration officials say until a final plan is agreed on by summer, it's too early to talk about what the price tag will be.
Wednesday, March 12 2014 12:27 AM EDT2014-03-12 04:27:22 GMT
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