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.

agricultural-water-pollution

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.

4 Responses to “CLF Petition Seeks Win-Win Solutions for Agricultural Water Pollution”

  1. Krista Gardner

    Dear CLF and Mr. Iarrapino,

    Reducing pollution from large dairy farms is a tricky yet critical step in restoring the health and function of Vermont’s streams, rivers, and lakes. As you mentioned many of Vermont’s farmers have stepped up to the plate already, many wetland areas have been restored, and sources of storm water runoff have been addressed, yet the problem of excess nutrients entering aquatic ecosystems persists. I agree that it is time for a mandatory set of best practices for the dairy and livestock industry and I applaud the work you have completed in order to submit the petition to the Secretary of Agriculture. Keep up the great work. I’m always proud of what CLF is up to and glad to be a member of your organization.

    Sincerely,

    Krista Gardner

  2. Wm Floyd

    Well, actually the lie that CLF is telling here is that there are no mandated minimum practices for Ag in the Missisquoi Basin. It simply is not true. The Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs) are already mandatory for even the smallest farm operation. The reality is that your legislators simply refuse to reallocate resources to staff the Agency of Agriculture sufficiently to implement them. That is the real crisis, but you see, CLF cannot sue the legislature. As a real life “one-trick pony” sue the bastards is the only tool in their box. As farmer’s often say, “If all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail”. I dare you to print that.

  3. John Parizeau

    While a few farms are trying to decrease the agriculture runoff, the majority are not. Voluntary compliance will not work. Take a ride around Swanton and Highgate and you can see all the manure treated corn fields are tilled right to stream edge. No buffer whatsoever and no attempt to provide a vegatative buffer. This is really frustrating as a buffer is a low cost project that most farms won’t even attempt. Until mandatory complaince is enforced, Lake Champlain is doomed.

  4. Tin Barton-Caplin

    Hello!

    Could you provide an update to the status of your petition and the Agency of Agriculture’s response?

    Thanks!

    Tin

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