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.
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.