Can Cows, Manure, and Algae All Add Up to Clean Water? Lessons from Charlotte, Vermont

Sep 11, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Innovation continues to thrive in the Green Mountain State. The Nordic Farm is looking at using algae to turn manure and other biological waste into fuel and fertilizer.

The farm’s dairy barn is home to 300 cows. These ladies produce more than a ton of manure every day. That’s a lot of waste. Seventeen dairy farms in Vermont are already equipped with anaerobic digesters to help tackle the constant supply of manure. These digesters provide manure with a second life. They harvest methane gas from the manure and use it to produce electricity for the farm or electric grid. Green Mountain Power distributes what has come to be known as Cow Power to customers all over the state.

The Nordic Farm in Charlotte, Vermont, is turning cow manure into fuel and fertilizer – and helping clean up our waters at the same time.

The Nordic Farm in Charlotte, Vermont, is turning cow manure into fuel and fertilizer – and helping clean up our waters at the same time.

Even though Cow Power is able to harvest a valuable product from manure, one byproduct of anaerobic digestion is a nutrient dense liquid. Since farmers need to apply this liquid when it is produced, its use is often an inopportune time during the year when the Vermont landscape is already overburdened with nutrients. The excessive nutrients then run off the land and cause water pollution.

The technology being explored at Nordic Farm takes a step beyond anaerobic digestion.

The farm is working with GSR Solutions President Anju Dahiya to introduce algae to the liquid waste as a means to both eliminate the harmful byproducts of anaerobic digestion and put them to good use.

A special strain of algae is introduced to the liquid byproduct of the anaerobic digestion. The algae feed on the liquid waste and produce a crude oil biofuel that can be used in place of motor oil. It also produces a dry fertilizer. The fertilizer is granular and can be stored and used later on the farm, or shipped to farms at other locations.

The nutrients in the original liquid byproduct are concentrated in the dry fertilizer. Farmers can import less fertilizer, and reduce the overall load of nutrients coming on to the farm and threatening our waterways.

Reducing nutrients on farms is critical to cleaning up Lake Champlain and eliminating the numerous beach closures we’ve seen far too much of on Lake Champlain this summer.

While the technology has a long way to go before Vermonters will be filling their diesel cars with algae fuel, or buying algae fertilizer at the garden store, it is exciting to see what creative innovation can mean for our farms, for climate change and our waters.

Another Significant Step Toward a Clean and Healthy Lake Champlain

Sep 9, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last week, CLF and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (AAFM) agreed to an historic settlement that provides the blueprint for farmers to reach Vermont’s goal of clean and healthy waters across the state. This agreement comes nearly a year after AAFM originally rejected CLF’s petition for stricter standards for agricultural operations. However, the context around water issues has changed drastically in the last year, allowing for this compromise to be brokered now.

Lake Champlain - Burlington VT

A new framework to better control nutrient pollution from farms is aimed at helping curb toxic blue-green algae blooms in Lake Champlain.

The recent passage of a landmark statewide clean water bill is just one of the changes benefitting the state’s waters in the past year. That bill, signed into law by Governor Shumlin in June, has opened up new revenue streams beyond the bump in federal funds available to farmers for conservation work on their land. In another significant step forward, the Environmental Protection Agency recently set new limits on phosphorus pollution – which contributes directly to toxic blue-green algae blooms – in Lake Champlain, with particularly stringent restrictions on agricultural runoff in the Missisquoi watershed. Together, these initiatives set clear water quality mandates aimed at cleaning up Vermont’s most ailing waterways.

And now, the agreement reached between CLF and AFFM offers a reasonable path forward to achieve those mandates.

Currently, farm operators must implement a series of basic practices for reducing pollutant runoff from their operations. While AAFM is updating and expanding these requirements, it is clear that certain areas within the Lake Champlain Basin need additional measures in place to achieve clean water.

This agreement lays out a framework for putting in place conservation practices that go beyond the state standard. These practices will vary from farm to farm, but will ultimately focus on controlling nutrients, excluding livestock from waterways, protecting soils through cover crops, and expanding riparian buffers. The timeframe of implementation allows for farmers to learn what practices are needed, what resources are available, and to plan ahead.

While this agreement represents an important step forward, the framework is still subject to the public comment process and final approval by the Secretary of AAFM. If either piece doesn’t fall into place, CLF will continue to fight for clean water through litigation.

Stay tuned to learn the outcome of the public hearing on October 9 when Vermonters will have an opportunity to weigh in on the agreement. Not already on our email list? Sign up here to get the most up-to-date news on this and other conservation issues in Vermont and across New England.

Blue-Green Algae Causes Burlington Beach Closure

Jul 16, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Monday’s closure of two popular beaches in Burlington is a stark reminder of why Vermont’s focus on water quality is so timely and important. Sightings of blue-green algae along the Burlington shoreline prompted low alert warnings last Friday and led to beach closures in the area earlier this week.

A quick response to these sightings is vital since certain types of blue-green algae produce toxins that are harmful to people and their pets. Exposure can result in skin irritations, liver damage, and neurological disease. Large blooms of blue-green algae also negatively impact the environment by depleting oxygen levels in the surrounding water when they decay – killing fish and other aquatic plants. .

These blooms form during the summer months of long hours of sunlight and warm water temperature in lakes and ponds with excess nutrients like phosphorus. The problem is especially acute on Lake Champlain, where the high concentration of phosphorus comes largely from human activity in the watershed, including stormwater runoff from developed areas, agricultural practices, and wastewater treatment facilities.

Water advocates, including Ben and Jerry’s and The Waterwheel Foundation, have joined with CLF to reduce the impact of these human activities on the lake.

This summer, Vermonters are particularly attuned to water quality challenges following the passage of a clean water bill earlier this year. While not perfect, the legislation is a significant step towards reducing the high levels of phosphorus that plague our waterways . As new programs are put in place, CLF will continue to negotiate tight controls for pollutants in Lake Champlain and across the state.

Unfortunately, beach closures like the ones in Burlington this week aren’t limited to Vermont. CLF has recently filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island to remedy the regular closure of some of the state’s most popular beaches. Water pollution is a regional challenge, and CLF will continue to fight for clean, healthy waters throughout New England.

Governor Shumlin Signs Landmark Clean Water Bill in Vermont

Jun 16, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Today Governor Peter Shumlin signed legislation known as H.35, which takes significant first steps toward cleaning up the devastating pollution that plagues Vermont’s waterways. CLF has pushed for years for government action to clean up Lake Champlain and other waterways in the state, and I was pleased to stand beside Governor Shumlin today as he signed this historic bill into law.

Governor Peter Shumlin

Governor Peter Shumlin signs landmark bill aimed at cleaning up Lake Champlain.

The legislative focus of H.35 was a long time coming and was spurred by the deterioration of Lake Champlain, the state’s most iconic waterbody. Like the Cuyahoga River in the 1960s, Lake Champlain’s pollution problem is so severe that it garners attention nationwide. The pollution’s effects are easy to see: Excessive phosphorous levels create toxic blue-green algae blooms that are not only ugly and odorous, but also harmful to people, wildlife, and aquatic plants. Warnings against swimming or fishing when these blooms appear have become all too common to both frustrated locals and disappointed tourists alike. With Lake Champlain an economic driver for the state, the impacts of its poor health are felt far beyond the lake itself.

The law signed by Governor Shumlin today aims to restore and protect Lake Champlain and other state waterways by overhauling Vermont’s water pollution control program. A significant piece of the bill includes measures to address runoff from roads, farms, and developed areas – all of which are major sources of phosphorus pollution. H.35 also opens the door for increased phosphorous control at municipal wastewater treatment sites and allows for a new program where Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture will implement pollution control mechanisms to aid in the clean up of our waters.

While H.35 shows promise, it is not a final answer. More needs to be done to ensure that Vermont’s precious waters remain healthy and vital. H.35 is a major and necessary step, but it is only the beginning in protecting Lake Champlain – and by extension the people, wildlife, and economic engines that depend on it. CLF will be taking an active role as the bill is put into action, to ensure that the full promise of the law is realized.

As a member of the CLF community, you have played a critical role in supporting the work that led to today’s landmark outcome. Thank you. Your voice will continue to be important as the legislation takes effect over the next five to ten years. We look forward to continuing to work with you to bring about cleaner, healthier waters across Vermont.

New Legislation in Vermont

May 18, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Lake Champlain

New legislation passed this session could help clean up ailing Lake Champlain.

It was a long and tiring Legislative session this year in Vermont.

On a very warm Saturday in May, Vermont’s legislators headed home. But not before making some good progress on key CLF priorities.

Clean Water

The key water quality bill, H.35,  focused on Lake Champlain. It sets a roadmap for further work. It provides funding for some additional staff for education and outreach as well as enforcement. It also creates a Clean Water Fund to keep track of funds spent on water quality.

Renewable Energy

The RESET law, H.40, finally eliminates the odd practice in Vermont that allowed the sale of Vermont created renewable energy credits to customers in other states while still claiming the power is renewable for meeting Vermont’s renewable energy goals.

The bill would set the highest standard of any place in the region for renewable energy – 75% by 2032. Much of this energy will come from existing facilities including from power imported from Hydro Quebec.

The new law will also require that 10% of the electricity in 2032 come from smaller scale renewable projects and provides for a new innovative program that encourages utilities to reduce overall fossil fuel use including from transportation and heating.  A troubling amendment that placed a cap on energy efficiency efforts was eliminated.

Toxic Soils

With growing development in downtown areas, disposing of contaminated soils has been challenging. A proposed bill, H.269, would have created a very broad exemption until new state rules are in place. CLF opposed the broad exemption and worked to strengthen the bill. As passed, the law provides a clear and safe way to manage soils from downtown developments. It avoids giving a broad handout to developers and makes sure that soils are managed to protect against any contact with people or water. It also provides a good test of effective soil management that should be helpful as the State develops rules.

It’s Possible

Apr 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A walk along Boston Harbor today reveals a waterfront that’s both beautiful and vibrant. Water taxis and sailboats skim its waters; tourists and locals stroll along its shores; fishermen catch striped bass right off the docks; and waterside restaurants brighten the evening.

It’s hard to believe that, barely a generation ago, this same harbor was in crisis, a dirty and rancid stew of raw sewage and toxic pollution. Back then, it was deemed the problem too big, too dirty, too impossible to solve. No one wanted to step up and do anything about it. But, rather than back down from this challenge, we at CLF declared we were going to take back Boston Harbor from the polluters.

And we did.

Cleaning up Boston Harbor is just one of the seemingly impossible challenges CLF has taken on – and won.

Thanks to the support of people like you, the remarkable transformation of Boston Harbor is just one of the seemingly impossible challenges CLF has taken on – and won – in our nearly 50-year history.

It was really kind of outrageous at the time that our small band of lawyers and policy advocates took on both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Environmental Protection Agency – and won. No one then could have predicted that this was going to be a $4.5 billion, generational effort to rebuild metropolitan Boston’s entire water, sewer, and stormwater systems – or that our efforts to ensure clean water drains into Boston Harbor would still be ongoing today.

You can’t deny the results. Today, Boston Harbor is swimmable and fishable. Boston now has a world-class water and sewer authority and a National Park celebrating the Boston Harbor Islands. Billions of dollars were invested in real estate, producing thousands of jobs around the harbor in the process. And Boston Harbor now has its own watchdog – Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, a group CLF helped form to carry our vigilance forward.

While CLF was just the point of the spear that made all of this happen, it was a very sharp point directed very strategically.

Boston Harbor, iconic though it is, was not the first time CLF had taken on a seemingly impossible challenge. And it certainly wasn’t the last. Oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank? Stopped. A four-lane highway through Franconia Notch? Blocked. A destructive dam on the Penobscot River? Defeated. Big coal in Massachusetts? Shutting down. The largest landfill in Rhode Island flouting the Clean Air Act? Called to account. Pollution choking Lake Champlain? Getting cleaned up for the benefit of all.

And that’s the short list.

Now, today, in 2015, we are facing the defining challenge of our age – climate change. It’s bigger and more complex than anything we’ve tackled before, and it’s going to touch everything we all hold dear about New England: our communities, our environment, and our livelihoods.

But it’s not an impossible challenge, despite inaction and denial at so many levels of our government. Yes, we need international and national leadership on climate change, but let’s be clear: The real solutions are going to be forged at the state and regional levels and that’s where CLF shines. This is CLF’s moment.

Dealing with climate change is going to take every tool in our toolbox, every ounce of expertise we have, every innovative idea we can generate, and every ally we can muster. It won’t be easy, and I would be misleading you if I didn’t note that it’s already too late to head off some of the climate impacts New England will experience.

But, frankly, it’s when we’re told that a challenge can’t be overcome that we are at our most bold, our most creative, and our most tenacious. I know – because in my 30 years with CLF, I’ve seen us surmount the impossible time and time again.

What really keeps us moving forward, tackling New England’s biggest environmental challenges, is our commitment to all of you – and to people and communities large and small across New England. For nearly 50 years, people like you have been our critical partners in what’s possible. You have helped CLF close polluting power plants, clean up New England’s air and water, bolster the health of our oceans, and boost the vitality of our communities.

You are helping New England thrive – for people today and for future generations tomorrow. We’re honored to have you by our side and thank you for your commitment to making a difference.

This April, we’re seeking to raise $25,000 toward our efforts to solve New England’s seemingly impossible environmental challenges – ensuring clean air and clean water, healthy oceans and healthy communities for all. Please give, now, as generously as you can, to help us reach this goal.







Public Hearing: TDI Transmission Project – Vermont

Feb 18, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Vermont Public Service Board will be holding a public hearing on a very large scale electric transmission project proposed in Vermont.

TDI Transmission Project
Tuesday evening, February 24, 2015
7:00 pm
Fair Haven Union High School, (Band Room)
33 Mechanic Street, Fair Haven, Vermont

The project proposed by TDI is planned to go underneath Lake Champlain from the Canadian Border through to Benson, Vermont, and will then connect with existing transmission facilities in Ludlow, Vermont, to serve customers in Southern New England. You can see the full project filing here.

This is one of the largest transmission projects proposed for New England. The project is planned to carry more than 1,000 MW of power – more than is needed to power the entire state of Vermont.

Compared with many other large energy projects, the developers have done a good job to reach out to local towns and interested citizens. The project is planned to be entirely underground and/or under water. The developers are proposing to provide funding for renewable energy and for Lake Champlain clean-up as part of the project.

The Public Service Board still needs to determine that the proposed project promotes the general good of Vermont. Though connected to Vermont facilities, it is not planned to serve Vermont customers. Vermont provides the transmission highway for customers in other parts of New England.

TDI anticipates the project will deliver hydro power from Canadian facilities, but does not have any current contracts. In connection with Northern Pass, a large transmission project proposed for New Hampshire, CLF identified significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions from new large-scale hydro facilities. (See information about Northern Pass here); see information about GHG emissions from large-scale hydro facilities here).

CLF submitted comments in connection with planned federal permits for the TDI Vermont project. You can see CLF’s comments here and here.

In the comments, CLF identified some issues that deserve closer attention:

  1. Power Supply – what is the source and impacts of the power that will be delivered through this project? Will the project deliver power from fossil fuel facilities?
  2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions – What are the GHG impacts of the project? Are the emissions from new large scale hydro facilities fully and fairly evaluated?
  3. Phosphorus Pollution in Lake Champlain – The project will disrupt sediment and release phosphorus in areas that are already polluted with excess phosphorus.
  4. Mercury pollution – Emissions from power plants have deposited toxic mercury in the Lake’s sediments. The disruption of sediment can re-suspend the mercury and make it more available to harm fish and people.

As New England closes coal plants and moves toward cleaner energy supplies, it is important to ensure that new supplies meet our overall power needs and do not increase greenhouse gas emissions or harm our waterways.

New transmission projects should not provide blank checks to import pollution. Instead new projects should clearly reduce pollution impacts.

Come let the Board know what concerns you may have. Tell the Board you want to make sure energy is used wisely and that transmission projects in Vermont provide clean energy to New England.

It is important for the Public Service Board to hear from you.



Drinking Water – Too Precious to Pollute

Aug 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The tragedy this past weekend that left more than 500,000 Ohio and Michigan residents without safe drinking water shows the real dangers of polluted runoff. Toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie left drinking water with dangerous levels of microcystin. More than 100 people visited area hospitals, with upset stomachs, dizziness, and vomiting after drinking contaminated water.

The dangers of toxic algae blooms are not limited to Lake Erie. Excess nutrients – especially phosphorus – from agricultural runoff pollute Lake Champlain.

Nutrients meant to feed farm crops instead runoff into Lake Champlain where they cause excessive growth of algae and other weeds. Toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain have caused beach closings and are dangerous to people and animals. In 2012, Missisquoi Bay suffered a large fish kill as a result of particularly bad phosphorous pollution.

Blue-Green Bloom

Blue-Green Algae in Lake Champlain in 2011.

Keeping our waterways clean and healthy requires reducing runoff from farms. Earlier this summer, CLF petitioned the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to require stronger controls on agricultural runoff to protect Lake Champlain. As the situation in Ohio shows, the safety of the drinking water of thousands of Vermonters is at stake. Reducing farm pollution is manageable and necessary. In some circumstances, funding is available to assist farmers with pollution controls. Requiring improved management practices, such as fencing to keep cows and other livestock out of streams prevents direct pollution impacts. Creating buffers along streams can minimize runoff near fields. Reducing ditching and allowing water to flow more slowly cuts back on erosion after rainstorms. Careful enforcement can reduce overuse of fertilizers that feed algae instead of plants.

With nearly a quarter-million households relying on Lake Champlain for drinking water, we cannot afford to keep adding dangerous levels of phosphorus to the Lake. The experience in Lake Erie is a cautionary tale that we should heed in Vermont before it’s too late.

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.