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.
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.