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Feds tell Vt. to step up Lake Champlain cleanup efforts - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Feds tell Vt. to step up Lake Champlain cleanup efforts

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Environmental Protection Agency and state officials continue to develop strategies to depollute Lake Champlain more than a decade after the process first began. The pollution comes from farms via rivers, stormwater runoff along development and wastewater facilities.

"It boils down to the lake is not meeting basic water quality standards," said David Mears, the commissioner of the Vt. Department of Environmental Conservation.

After the EPA rejected a prior plan from Vermont in 2011, the state is back to the drawing board. Officials must find a way to cut down on phosphorus contamination which leads to algae blooms and other chemicals that threaten the drinkability, swimability and fishability of the state's biggest lake.

Mears says he's encouraged by the EPA's response to the first draft of a new plan which came in the form of a letter from the federal agency.

"Reinforced my sense that we're on the right track, but they did want to see more detail," he said.

The EPA criticized the state's plan for tying cleanup commitments to funding rather than identifying a source of capital. Vermont received support for its plans to reduce runoff pollution sources, but fell short by not addressing waste-treatment facilities.

Agency spokespeople say they also want to see clearer timelines in future drafts and a pledge to complete work sooner rather than later.

"They definitely want to see us make progress as much as possible in the early years and we share that interest," Mears said.

"There are really no surprises in the letter," said Brian Shupe, the executive director of the Vt. Natural Resources Council.

Environmental activists say the EPA's concerns mirror their own. They worry that while the plan has many strong ideas, it pushes key execution decisions into the future.

Shupe says it's time for planning to turn into action.

"We acknowledge that it will take a long time for the benefits to pay off, but we need to start doing the things we need to do to make that cleanup happen," Shupe said.

Mears says he understands the impatience of many Vermonters. He says with additional resources for the project and buy-in from farmers and the population as a whole, the results from all their hard work will become clear.

The Department of Environmental Conservation will issue a new version of the plan addressing the EPA's concerns later this month.

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