This Week on – February 1-5

Feb 5, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

February 1 – A Cartoon Crash Course – Thanks to the Pew Charitable Trusts and cartoonist Jim Toomey, the artist behind “Sherman’s Lagoon,” we now have ten animated, and even funny, videos that help explain some of the more complex concepts and actions that go into protecting our oceans. Protecting Ocean Ecosystems, by Talking Fish.

February 2 – Fish Talk in the News – Tuesday, February 2 – In this edition of Fish Talk in the News, WBUR features Cashes Ledge; NE groundfishermen plan for at-sea monitoring costs; Maine shrimp hits the market thanks to spawning study; and FDA bans imports of GM AquAdvantage salmon. In the News, by Talking Fish.

February 4 – NOAA Study: Climate Change Threatens Important Marine Fish and Invertebrate Species – Yesterday, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration released a major climate study that evaluated 82 Northeast marine fish and invertebrate species’ overall vulnerability to climate change as well as the potential for population distribution change. The researchers found that half of the species are “highly” or “very highly” vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This is the first multispecies assessment of its kind. Science, by Talking Fish.

February 5 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, February 5 – In this edition of Fish Talk in the News, climate change poses a threat to northeast fish stocks; New England groundfish industry is concerned about new quota cuts; Maine lobster industry is wary as warm water suggests repeat of 2012 season; Reps. Poliquin and Pingree push to protect urchin and sea cucumber fisheries; whale habitat expansion concerns fishermen; Maine will close valuable scallop grounds; Rep. Courtney tells congressional subcommittee that plan would bankrupt lobstermen; and a new study says the U.S. east coast is a sea level rise “hotspot.” In the News, by Talking Fish.

CLF Petition Seeks Win-Win Solutions for Agricultural Water Pollution

May 23, 2014 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

Yesterday, CLF filed a first-of-its-kind state law petition with the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture. The petition calls for Vermont officials to require dairy and livestock producers in the Missisquoi Bay region of Lake Champlain to implement “Best Management Practices” proven to reduce erosion and runoff of manure into area tributary waterways and the Lake itself. Agriculture is a huge part of the rural economy and cultural heritage in the region that drains to Missisquoi Bay. Sadly, pollution from agriculture is also the biggest source of phosphorous plaguing the Bay.


The beautiful Missisquoi River feeds into Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay. CLF’s petition aims to protect the river and the bay from pollution that comes from poorly managed agricultural operations. Photo credit: Marcio Cabral de Moura via photopin cc

Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically rich waterscape that is home to a National Wildlife Refuge designated as a “Wetland of International Importance.” It is also ground zero for Lake Champlain’s phosphorous pollution problems. Many days the water there is safe and clean, but too often those who seek to use the Bay confront toxic blue-green algae blooms or mass fish kills. That’s why it is time for a more comprehensive, mandatory pollution control approach that requires agricultural producers to do their fair share of pollution prevention.

CLF’s petition rests on government scientific studies that identify specific agricultural operations as “critical source areas” of phosphorous discharge, i.e., those that send the most phosphorous pollution to the Lake because of the soils and slopes on which the farming is being done or the methods of farming being employed. Drawing off those scientific studies, CLF’s petition also identifies the “Best Management Practices” that should be required to reduce pollution and the loss of soils to erosion – a win-win approach considering that healthy soils are one of the most valuable assets on a farm. These include:

Vegetative Filter Strips “of grasses or other close-growing vegetation planted around fields and along drainage ways, streams and other bodies of water designed to reduce sediment, organic material, nutrients and chemicals carried in runoff by slowing the speed of water runoff, allowing contaminants to settle out.” Learn more >>

Cover Crops, like winter rye, that are planted in fields after the primary crop–most often corn–has been harvested. They “cover” the soil and hold it in place with their roots to “prevent erosion, improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, suppress weeds, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles. Cover crops trap excess nutrients, keeping them from leaching into groundwater or running off into surface water, and release it later to feed growing crops.” Learn more >>

Grassed waterways, natural or constructed channels established in suitable vegetation for safe water disposal. Waterways are constructed to convey runoff from terraces, diversions, or other concentrated flow areas where erosion control is needed. Grassed waterways also improve or help protect water quality by filtering sediment and nutrients.” Learn more >>

Many agricultural producers in the areas of Vermont that send pollution to the Bay have voluntarily stepped up to the plate and are making the best management practices work for water quality and also for the bottom line of their business. But unless every “critical source area” producer is held to the same standard, Vermont is not going to make the pollution control progress it needs to restore and protect Missisquoi Bay. It’s neither fair nor effective for some agricultural producers to do all the heavy lifting for clean water while their neighboring producers sit on the sidelines and do business as usual.

Vermont officials, working with EPA, have recognized the need to do more to reduce pollution flowing to Missisquoi Bay from all sources, including agricultural producers in critical source areas. Granting CLF’s petition would be an important step in the right direction.


Apr 9, 2014 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Riding the single chair ski lift to 3637′ summit of General Stark’s Mountain at Mad River Glen is among my life’s great pleasures. The lift pulls you ever upward through the forest at treetop height. You sit comfortably in solitude soaking it all in. The experience imparts a sense of serenity that competes with the giddy anticipation of the long, fast descent that awaits. The best moment comes when your chair attains the elevation that affords you a sweeping panoramic view over the spine of the Green Mountains to the shimmering shores of Lake Champlain that lie beyond, stretching northward in the distance to the Canadian border. It is a compelling visual reminder that “The Lake Starts Here.”


Watershed Perspective: Lake Champlain seen in the background from the summit of General Stark’s Mountain

When the snow melts it flows downhill into one of the many Vermont rivers that feed into Lake Champlain. These rivers and the mountains, forests, farms, and developed areas that drain into them are the Lake’s watershed. Credit for the clever hashtag #LakeStartsHere goes to our angler amigos at Lake Champlain International who are working in concert with the Vermont Ski Areas Association to raise “watershed” awareness among Vermonters and our visitors through a contest featuring photos like the one at right. The idea is to help people make connections between the snow they ski on in the winter and the water they drink, swim, fish, and boat on in the summer; as the seasons turn one becomes the other.

Watershed awareness is sorely needed at this critical moment in the history of Lake Champlain cleanup. While the Lake is a drinking water source for nearly 200,000 people and a recreation destination for thousands more, it is too often out of sight out of mind for many Vermonters who do not live in communities that touch the Lake’s shores. Yet the polluted runoff from farms, logging sites, roads, parking lots, industrial sites, downtowns, strip malls, and housing developments along with the polluted wastewater from those upstream communities all contribute to the clean water crisis (e.g., toxic blue-green algae blooms, noxious weed growth, fish kills) facing one of the nation’s largest freshwater lakes.

The Clean Water Act and Vermont’s own state water quality laws require everyone to do their part for cleanup. The laws are based on the wise premise, beautifully articulated by poet Wendell Berry, that we must do unto our downstream neighbors as we would have our upstream neighbors do unto us. At some point we all live downstream and, more importantly, we all benefit from clean water.

Fortunately, many of the pollution control measures Vermonters must undertake to clean up Lake Champlain will benefit local waterways and community bottom lines too.

  • When upstream farmers prevent manure runoff and soil erosion they not only reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing downstream to Lake Champlain, they also keep water free of harmful bacteria that can make local swimming holes unsafe and reduce sediment that clogs fish habitat.
  • When municipalities upgrade culverts and line ditches along their gravel roads they reduce erosion of phosphorus-laden sediments and also reduce the amount of money spent on road maintenance over the long term.
  • When real estate developers install “green stormwater infrastructure” at shopping plazas and housing developments, they reduce overall flows of phosphorus runoff flowing downstream to the Lake and at the same time reduce flash flooding risks in local rivers and streams caused by the artificial concentration of runoff from an overpaved landscape.
  • When ski areas maintain or restore robust buffers on high mountain streams, they minimize the local erosion hazards that result from clearing
    trails and reduce pollutants that flow downstream.

In the wake of CLF’s precedent-setting lawsuit and settlement with EPA seeking a truly effective and comprehensive cleanup framework for Lake Champlain, the administration of Governor Peter Shumlin and EPA officials are wrestling with the final details of a new plan. CLF is playing an active watchdog role to ensure that Governor Shumlin, the state legislature, and EPA officials live up to their responsibilities under our clean water laws by holding all contributing pollution sources accountable to do their part. If and when they do, we can launch a new watershed-wide photo contest: #ACleanLakeStartsHere.

Maine Legislature Takes First Step Towards Averting Disastrous Impacts of Ocean Acidification

Mar 12, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Maine’s legislature is taking early steps to address increasingly acidic ocean waters in the Gulf of Maine that threaten the state’s shellfisheries and marine ecosystem.

The Gulf of Maine has become increasingly more acidic as CO2 emissions from industrial sources and vehicles get deposited in the water, where the carbon mixes to form carbonic acid. This problem is aggravated by polluted stormwater runoff.  The more acidic seawater has been shown to dissolve juvenile clam shells, and larvae are avoiding the most acidic mudflats. Studies predict that the increasing acidity, if left unchecked, will also stunt the growth of lobsters, and cause them to develop thicker shells. Oyster production is also expected to drop dramatically.

Maine is more dependent on its marine resources for its economic health than any other state in the Northeast. Nearly 6,000 active harvesters work in our lobster and clam fisheries alone, while hundreds of other industries and communities support, and depend on, this vital source of revenue and livelihoods.

Last week, the Maine Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee took a giant first step towards addressing the problem when it voted unanimously to send a bill that authorizes a study of the issue to the house floor. The bill, introduced by Representative Mick Devin, would establish a 16-member panel to identify what further study is needed and what legislation can be introduced in the 2015 legislative session to address ocean acidification. The bill starts a critical process designed to counteract ocean acidification now, rather than waiting until it has rotted away our shellfish industry and irrevocably changed the fish that can survive in our waters.

CLF strongly supports this first but significant step in averting this potential economic and environmental crisis. We joined with other organizations and fishing interests to help ensure positive support for Representative Devin’s bill in the Marine Resources Committee. In the near future, the bill will go to the floor for a vote by the full legislature. Please contact your legislators and let them know of your support for this important bill. If you want to learn more, post a comment or email

CLF Works for Clean Water in a Changing Climate

Mar 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


A deluge of rain in spring 2011 caused flooding upstream of Lake Champlain. Extreme weather and damaging floods are not the only downside of Vermont’s changing climate. Mud-brown flood waters flowing to Lake Champlain also increase the loading of nutrient pollution that can cause toxic blue-green algae blooms and noxious weed growth.

The damaging floods of spring 2011 followed by Tropical Storm Irene in late summer awakened many Vermonters to the connection between climate change and extreme precipitation. But well before the “watershed moment” that was 2011, CLF’s Vermont Advocacy Center was pushing policymakers to connect the dots between our clean water challenges and the changing climate. Thanks in part to CLF’s efforts, Vermont is now poised to play a leadership role in the national climate change conversation around strategies to secure the natural resource we literally cannot live without: clean water.

CLF has worked for years to ensure that enforceable measures are put in place to clean up Lake Champlain, which has been heavily impaired by nutrient pollution. This pollution causes toxic blue-green algae blooms and noxious weed growth that make the water unsafe or unpleasant for swimming, fishing, and boating, and has led to massive fish die-offs in some parts of the lake.

In 2002, EPA approved a framework created by Vermont officials for cleaning up nutrient pollution in the lake, but it failed to take into account the growing scientific consensus that our climate is changing. In 2008, CLF sued EPA, under the Clean Water Act, to reopen this framework and revise it to include consideration of climate change. Specifically, CLF cited government studies such as the 2008 EPA National Water Program strategy document titled “Response to Climate Change.” It concluded that the climate chaos we are causing with our greenhouse gas pollution will “alter the hydrological cycle, especially characteristics of precipitation (amount, frequency, intensity, duration, type) and extremes.” The report also made a range of predictions that ring true in Vermont’s recent experience of the changing climate:

• “[w]ater-borne diseases and degraded water quality are very likely to increase with more heavy precipitation”;

• potential increases in heavy precipitation, with expanding impervious surfaces, could increase urban flood risks and create additional design challenges and costs for stormwater management”;

• flooding can affect water quality, as large volumes of water can transport contaminants into waterbodies and also overload storm and wastewater systems.

CLF and EPA ultimately settled the case, with EPA subsequently agreeing to redo the Lake Champlain cleanup framework to account for the ways in which Vermont will have to adapt our pollution-control efforts to a world in which heavy precipitation and flooding are increasingly the norm for New England. CLF’s success in the case has since been cited as a national model (e.g., “Using Legal Tools to Protect Lakes and Rivers from Climate Impacts“) and one CLF is working to replicate as it fights for clean water solutions on Cape Cod.

Now, CLF is actively participating in the new Lake Champlain Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process to ensure that both EPA and Vermont officials succeed in finding a way to secure enough clean water in a changing climate, both because the job is imperative for Vermont’s future and because the lessons we learn here can apply elsewhere in New England and the nation. Fortunately, EPA is bringing some cutting-edge, forward-looking science to the table. For example, EPA has produced a report titled Projected Changes in Phosphorus Loads Due to Climate Change. It is helping Vermont policymakers plan for the added challenges that climate change presents to our ongoing pollution-control efforts. EPA is also working on a second report that will help regulators understand which on-the-ground pollution control measures are most likely to succeed when tested by extreme precipitation  like that we’ve seen recently and can expect more of as climate change worsens.

State officials are also recognizing the need to revisit regulatory standards applicable to developed areas that are the source of polluted runoff and increased flooding risks. CLF is an active stakeholder in the process of updating the state’s official Stormwater Management Manual. One key aim is to ensure that design standards match up with the scale of the extreme weather events we are witnessing. Moreover, CLF is advocating for pollution-control approaches that emphasize “Low Impact Design” and “Green Infrastructure.” These development techniques seek to preserve and/or mimic the natural landscape’s ability to soak up precipitation rather than concentrating its flow into destructive, heavily polluted volumes.

Since Vermont has been thrust into the forefront of states wrestling with this complicated issue, President Obama named Governor Peter Shumlin to his White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resiliency. Recognizing CLF’s leadership role in this effort, Governor Shumlin has tapped CLF advocates to join other Vermont experts in crafting climate-resilience recommendations to the White House Task Force.

The challenge of achieving clean water in a changing climate is a daunting one. First and foremost, we must do all we can to reduce climate-change pollution, thereby avoiding making the problem worse. In Vermont and throughout New England, CLF is fighting hard for clean energy solutions. At the same time, and with your continued support, CLF is helping Vermont lead the way toward water-pollution control measures that can stand up to the worst climate change has to offer.

CLF Settlement Maintains Momentum on Stream Cleanup

Oct 8, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

For more than a decade, CLF has worked to secure the Clean Water Act’s promise of water quality that supports healthy fish populations and is safe for recreation in all the degraded urban streams flowing to Lake Champlain. A new CLF settlement with Vermont environmental regulators helps continue the momentum toward fulfillment of that promise.

Several years ago, CLF won a series of court cases that resulted in Vermont adopting pollution reduction targets for urban streams afflicted with an excess of fouled runoff. Some of that polluted runoff comes from the network of storm sewers and pipes owned by cities and towns. The runoff in these “municipal separate storm sewer systems” can contain a range of harmful pollutants including:

  • sediment
  • road salt
  • oil slicks (those toxic rainbow slicks left behind by leaking cars)
  • toxic metals
  • bacteria (from animal waste)
  • heat (think of how hot pavement gets in the summer–that heat transfers into rainwater coursing over blacktop)
  • phosphorous (the key culprit in causing algae blooms in Lake Champlain)

In addition, these storm sewers are often too efficient at clearing rainwater and snowmelt from paved surfaces.  The result can be flash flooding in streams swollen by unusually heavy flows caused by our artificial manipulation of the natural landscape’s drainage.


Green Infrastructure helps soak up precipitation and filter out pollutants running off paved surfaces. As an added bonus, these pollution control measures make urban environments look nicer and can help mitigate flash flooding. Photo Credit: Vermont Agency of Natural Resources


Scientists who developed the pollution reduction targets for Vermont’s urban streams have determined that there is a strong link between the overall amount of runoff being discharged and the amount of pollution reaching streams. The solution is to slow the flow and allow more precipitation to soak into the ground rather than run off paved surfaces.  When placed in enough locations throughout our built landscape, “Green Infrastructure” such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and constructed wetlands can restore the land’s natural ability to soak up precipitation and filter out pollutants before they reach streams.

Earlier this year, CLF challenged the permit regulating discharges of polluted runoff from numerous municipal storm sewers throughout Vermont. The permit is one of the main mechanisms for translating runoff reduction targets into on-the-ground pollution control measures like green infrastructure. Under the challenged permit, each polluting municipality designs its own cleanup plan, determining which pollution control measures to deploy and where to deploy them so as to achieve maximum runoff reduction. Unfortunately, the final version of the permit gave polluting municipalities up to twenty years to clean up their acts and also prevented meaningful public review of the cleanup plans each polluting city and town was devising for itself.

In response to these flaws, CLF challenged the permit. Fortunately, after extended settlement negotiations, Vermont environmental officials agreed that the permit needed fixing to ensure timely, transparent, and accountable cleanup efforts by each regulated city and town. The parties devised a settlement that addresses the flaws in the original permit related to the timing and transparency of the cleanup plans. First, Vermont officials have agreed that each municipality’s proposed cleanup plan will be subject to public notice and comment before agency approval, creating an opportunity for citizens to appeal any inadequate cleanup plans to the Environmental Court. Second, Vermont officials agreed to rescind the blanket twenty-year timeframe for cleanup plan completion contained in the original permit. Instead, Vermont regulators will make an individualized decision about the appropriateness of a schedule of compliance for each plan; those decisions will also be subject to public notice, comment, and appeal when necessary. The settlement maintains momentum in the restoration process for these streams and restores bedrock procedural public participation safeguards that are hallmarks of the Clean Water Act.

Boston Harbor Clean Up Comes Full Circle with New Grant for the Lower Mystic

Aug 16, 2013 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

met-lower-mysticDespite a long history of industrial pollution, the Lower Mystic continues to be fished by local residents. Although there is a fish advisory upstream, which suggests that fishermen catch and release only, the Lower Mystic doesn’t have its own fish advisory. Rather it falls under the general fish advisory for the Boston Harbor. However, contaminated sediment, combined with significant ongoing water pollution from sewage overflows and stormwater, raises serious doubt whether the Boston Harbor fish advisory, which was based on sampling in Quincy Bay and has not been updated since 1988, is adequate for this area. What this means is that residents can continue to fish in the Lower Mystic, although they lack the necessary information to determine whether or not the fish they catch are safe to eat.

Now, with the help of a grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET), CLF and its partners—Chelsea Collaborative, Mystic River Watershed Association, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), and the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass-Boston)—will be able to work with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) to develop and provide clear, useful, and necessary public information that will help people to safely catch and consume fish from the waters in the Lower Mystic.

We suspect that a lack of specific, accurate, and reliable information for the residents of the Lower Mystic has likely resulted both in consumption of fish that is unsafe for human health and an overall underutilization of a valuable river resource. With this grant, we are excited to work closely with MDPH to improve this situation and provide clear guidance to the communities of the Mystic River and visitors in the form of an easy to read fish advisory.

As part of the grant, CLF and its partners will survey anglers about the current use of the Lower Mystic for fishing, develop an estimate of current consumption, conduct spot sampling of fish to help MDPH obtain the information it needs to assess the risks, and, if appropriate, seek issuance of a fish advisory specific for the area. CLF will also help MDPH in developing a user-friendly fish advisory and advocate for its translation into all languages spoken in the area.

Interestingly, it was CLF’s work to stop pollution of Boston Harbor that helped to establish the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. As part of the 1988 settlement of CLF’s and the federal government’s lawsuits which required the state to clean up Boston Harbor, the state legislature also established MET, which was initially funded with $2 million dollars.

Today, funding for MET is generated by proceeds from the sale of special environmental license plates. There are currently some 50,000 drivers with MET plates, generating roughly $1,000,000 annually for environmental projects. In addition, the trust continues to receive funding through settlements, judgments, civil actions, and administrative consent orders.


License plates like this one help fund MET.

The Lower Mystic is the part of the Mystic River Watershed closest to Boston Harbor. The watershed includes eight of the twenty most environmentally overburdened communities in Massachusetts. The environmental hazards in the Lower Mystic communities of Chelsea, Everett, East Boston alone include hazardous waste sites, landfills, transfer stations, incinerators, polluting industrial facilities, and power plants. The Mystic also has more parking lots, buildings, industrial sites and less green space than any other watershed in the Commonwealth. Residents of the Lower Mystic also have limited access to the waterfront.

CLF and its partners believe that, while we need to continue to work on addressing these environmental problems, it is also crucial that the access to the water that does exist is as beneficial and safe of a resource as it can be. A fish advisory for the Lower Mystic will go a long way toward helping us reach that goal. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Vermont Recommits to the Clean Water Act

Jul 19, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Yesterday, EPA sent Vermont’s clean water agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, a Clean Water Act “Corrective Action Plan,” outlining permitting and enforcement improvements and updates the state has made or needs to make to ensure that the state provides all the protections required by law to its citizens and the waters they have a right to use and enjoy. This marks a major milestone in CLF’s long-running efforts to secure clean water for all Vermonters.

The federal Clean Water Act is one of the most important and successful laws our nation ever enacted. Before its passage more than 40 years ago, massive volumes of raw sewage and industrial wastes flowed freely into our lakes and rivers. Polluters responsible for this mess faced little in the way of meaningful consequences. The patchwork of state permitting and enforcement programs Americans relied on to keep our waters safe and clean simply had too many holes in it.

The law’s passage reflected a national commitment to restoring and protecting all of our nation’s waters, ensuring that they are safe for drinking, fishing, swimming, and boating, with water quality that also supports healthy populations of fish and shellfish. It established a national goal of eliminating water pollution. As important as this law is, its effectiveness depends on its faithful execution by political appointees and career professional regulators at EPA and partner state clean water agencies like Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

In 2008, CLF acted on its longstanding concerns that Vermont’s waters were suffering from excessive pollution in part because state officials were falling far short of fulfilling all of their Clean Water Act responsibilities. CLF, with tremendous assistance from its able pro-bono counsel from the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Legal Clinic,  petitioned EPA to order significant improvements in Vermont’s water pollution control permitting and enforcement efforts. If Vermont officials failed to make needed improvements, CLF asked EPA to take over the lead in issuing permits and enforcing against polluters in Vermont.

After several years of investigation by EPA and negotiations with state officials, the Corrective Action Plan EPA issued represents a validation of CLF’s core concerns. It also represents a positive re-commitment to the Clean Water Act by the administration of Governor Peter Shumlin. Among the positive corrective actions Vermont has taken or will take to better control pollution per the EPA plan are:

  • The final issuance of the state’s first ever permit to control pollution discharges from “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations”—animal feedlot operations meeting certain regulatory criteria—in a manner that complies with the Clean Water Act.
  • Commitments to increase annual inspections of actual and suspected “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” to detect unlawful pollution discharges and ensure that CAFO dischargers apply for and comply with Clean Water Act permits.
  • Changes to state law allowing citizens to have a voice in the resolution of Clean Water Act enforcement proceedings.
  • A plan for limiting the amount of nutrients discharged by municipal wastewater treatment plants into the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound.
  • Enforcement against the Village of Waterbury sewage treatment plant that will significantly reduce one of the largest single phosphorous discharges into Lake Champlain through installation of state-of-the-art technology
  • Conforming the state’s policy relating to the use of polluter’s penalty payments to EPA’s requirement
  • Implementing a requirement of the Clean Water Act to prevent the degradation of existing high quality waters

The declining health of Lake Champlain and numerous other Vermont waterways underscores how far we. By implementing all of the Corrective Actions outlined above, Vermont is taking an important step in the right direction toward clean water solutions. Vermonters’ quality of life, economic vitality, and maintenance of our state’s green “brand” requires nothing less.

Growing Our Food Without Poisoning the Water: VT Issues Important New Draft Permit

Feb 28, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

A manure spreader overloads a St. Albans farm field with manure resulting in a direct discharge to Lake Champlain in 2007.

CLF is committed to protecting clean water AND to supporting a healthy farming economy in Vermont and throughout New England (read more about our food and farm work here). At CLF we know we Vermonters can grow our food without poisoning our water.  We have no choice if we are going to achieve a thriving New England for generations to come.

That’s why CLF has worked so hard to get Vermont officials to admit that intensive dairy operations and other types of industrial farming that confine large numbers of animals in small spaces needed to obtain Clean Water Act permits for discharges of manure and other pollution into waters of the state. Vermont is one of the last states, and in fact may be the last state to issue a permit to minimize and eventually eliminate these discharges from “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFOs) under the Clean Water Act.

In 2008, CLF issued a detailed report titled Failing our Waters, Failing our Farms: Vermont Regulators Turn A Blind Eye to Threat of Illegal Pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.” The report relied on years of agency inspection documents showing numerous cases of manure and other discharges that clearly violated the Clean Water Act. CLF’s report called for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the state regulators who run the federal Clean Water Act program in Vermont, to begin requiring polluting operations to obtain Clean Water Act permits.

Sadly, CLF’s call to action went unheeded, and cases of unchecked CAFO pollution continued, resulting in contamination of Lake Champlain and other lakes, rivers, and streams throughout Vermont. Particularly, agricultural discharges can result in harmful bacteria outbreaks and in the explosive growth of harmful blue-green algae that can make water unsafe for swimming, fishing, boating, and drinking.

When state officials failed to act, CLF, with pro bono representation from Vermont Law School’s Environment and Natural Resources Clinic, petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take over Clean Water Act permitting because it was clear that Vermont officials lacked the political will to adequately deal with a major group of polluters in a manner consistent with the nation’s landmark clean water law. EPA officials took CLF’s allegations seriously. Though Vermont officials initially resisted acceptance of this core water protection obligation, the last couple years have seen breakthroughs in the negotiation over the petition which in part resulted in the issuance of today’s long-awaited draft permit as well as forthcoming commitments by the state and EPA to dedicate more resources to CAFO inspection and enforcement.

CLF applauds Governor Shumlin, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz, and Department of Environmental Conservation Commission David Mears for showing the leadership to have Vermont at last embrace this important Clean Water Act obligation. Though the issuance of a draft permit is merely a small step in the right direction–CLF hopes it is a clear signal that Vermont may be ready to stop backpedaling when it comes to protecting lakes, rivers, and streams from this serious source of pollution.

CLF looks forward to examining this draft carefully and to filing comments to ensure that the permit contains all of the protections the law requires. I urge all who care about water that is safe for swimming, fishing, boating, and drinking and that supports fish and other wildlife, to examine the Draft Permit (available from the Agency’s web site here) and to send comments supporting its final adoption. There is no doubt that the powerful interests of Big Agriculture will continue to fight this positive step forward, even though many other farmers are welcoming the opportunity to be better stewards of our shared water resources.