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Vt. officials say Lake Champlain water quality efforts on track

(WCAX)
Published: Jan. 16, 2020 at 5:32 PM EST
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Vermont environmental officials say the state's investment in improving Lake Champlain water quality is paying off. In a 150-page report released Thursday, officials say the $100 million spent on recent improvements is working, but clean water advocates say more needs to be done.

Vermont Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore says she is proud of the work the state is doing when it comes water quality.

"It is a great report for 2019," Moore said. "It shows some significant progress that's being made."

In 2016, Moore says that the state estimated that 5 metric tons of phosphorus was prevented from entering Lake Champlain. In 2019, she says that number is 16.4 metric tons. That comes out to about 37,000 pounds of phosphorus not in the lake.

"Yet we still have a long road in front of us that represents about 7% of the reduction that we ultimately need to achieve," Moore said.

The state gives millions of dollars to organizations around the state to help fight phosphorus runoff, with funds going towards agriculture, roads, stormwater and waste water.

"The greatest progress that has been made that we are able to document is related to agriculture, although there is a lot of improvements taking place to stormwater and particularly better managing runoff from Vermont's back roads," Moore said.

One of the organizations that gets state funding to do their part in fighting phosphorus runoff is Friends of the Winooski River. "Phosphorus reduction is a very big driver in our work," said the group's Michelle Braun. She says some of that funding is used for programs like planting trees to help prevent runoff. She says she's happy with the report's findings.

"It's a long term process, so it is exciting to hear those numbers and feel like you're making progress," she said.

But other water quality advocates, like James Ehlers with Lake Champlain International, say it's still not enough. "I'm very concerned," Ehlers said. "We continue to subsidize private developers and industrial agriculture with taxpayer dollars."

State officials say the prevention work they are doing will pay off. "We know we have to turn the spigot off, to do the work in the watershed to keep new phosphorus from reaching the lake, but then there is important work to do in the lake itself," Moore said.

The state is is currently in year three of a 20-year plan to meet runoff goals and Moore is optimistic they can work with that timeline.