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Vt. sends Lake Champlain cleanup proposal to EPA - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. sends Lake Champlain cleanup proposal to EPA

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MONTPELIER, Vt. - Last month, federal regulators criticized Vermont for not clearly identifying how it plans to clean up Lake Champlain. On Thursday, state environmental officials addressed those concerns.

It's one of the largest freshwater lakes in America and the state of Vermont is committed to keeping it clean. The state announced a plan that would decrease pollution running into Lake Champlain over the next two decades.

Vermont sent the Environmental Protection Agency its plan to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain. It aims to reduce the level of phosphorous in the lake. The biggest culprits are the runoff from forests and farms and discharges from sewage plants.

The plan is a response to sharp criticism from the EPA last month. The feds said Vermont's plan needs to be strengthened in several areas. One big concern was that the state had not identified how to pay for the cleanup and lacked a signed commitment from Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

"There is a natural amount of phosphorus that goes in the lake. We don't have to eliminate phosphorus going into the lake, but we have to significantly reduce it because the way we are living on the landscape exacerbates and contributes to the larger levels that the lake can't absorb," Vt. Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears said.

Having too much phosphorus in the water can make humans sick and destroy the ecosystems of lake animals. It also leads to undesirable blue-green algae. The state's plan is to reduce phosphorous by 36 percent. It’s a goal that will likely take 20 years to achieve and through projects like buffer zones between crops and streams and reducing stream bank erosion.

In Vermont, over 40 percent of phosphorus comes from agricultural lands; stream instability is the second largest producer of phosphorus at 22 percent. 

Christopher Kilian of the Conservation Law Foundation says that the plan shows an important level of commitment.

"This press briefing and the submission of the plan to the U.S. EPA under the governor's signature is a level of commitment to this issue that we haven't really seen from any recent prior administration," said Kilian.

Federal, state and private money will fund the initiative, but the state hopes that the smaller projects will pay for themselves over time.

"By investing in these practices on the front end, it won't lead us an obligation for a perpetual subsidy. They will become part of the economic model for communities and businesses," said Killian.

The EPA must now approve the plan and set dates for progress reports.

"If you look at that 36 percent and what it equates to in terms of actual tons of phosphorus... I will say unequivocally that if we saw 36 percent reduction over any reasonable time frame... that would be a huge, huge step forward," said Killian.

The consequences of over-polluting the lake are already evident.

"You're seeing property values decline. You're seeing homes not being able to be sold, recreation based industries threatened by the pollution problems that are there," said Killian.

In stage one of the plan, the state will target specific areas where improvement can be rapid. Mears said that improvement will come fastest through the agriculture sector and collaboration with farmers.  Several projects will focus on improving poorly managed cropland and discharges from farmsteads. However, these projects will not begin without a commitment to sustaining green practices from farmers.

Phase one of the plan starts July 1, 2015. However, the state has yet to identify how much the project will cost and how much federal money they will receive.
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