The Path to a Clean Lake Champlain is Still Unclear | Conservation Law Foundation

The Path to a Clean Lake Champlain is Still Unclear

Rebekah Weber

While there’s still a long road ahead, CLF is cautiously optimistic about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new pollution limits for Lake Champlain. These new limits – also known as a Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL – dramatically reduce the amount of pollution allowed to enter the lake. The limits focus specifically on phosphorus pollution as the main culprit fueling the toxic blue-green algae blooms plaguing Lake Champlain.

The phosphorus reductions required by these new limits are a real departure from the status quo. They are, perhaps, the most forward-looking pollution limits the EPA has ever established. Farms in Missisquoi Bay are expected to cut their phosphorus pollution by 83 percent while development must lower its contribution by 21 percent.

These new limits come in response to a CLF challenge to limits set back in 2002, which still allowed too much phosphorus to enter the lake with no reasonable plan for slowing it down. This time around, EPA has taken Lake Champlain’s sad decline to heart by setting stringent phosphorus limits across the board, impacting how we treat our sewage, how we develop our land, and how we farm.

CLF acknowledges the new TMDL is an important step forward, but we also recognize the significant challenges Vermont must overcome to cut its phosphorus pollution to reach these new limits.

EPA Set Sweeping New Phosphorus Limits – Now It’s Up to the State to Implement Them

Despite a new state law to ratchet down phosphorus pollution, the rules and permits being developed to enforce the law do not confront the way our dairy farms operate today. Vermont’s dairy industry is following national trends and moving toward corn-based, larger-herd farms that pump phosphorus-laden fertilizers and manure into our waterways. Nor does the law make a dent in the vast network of parking lots and rooftops that funnel phosphorus and other pollutants directly into nearby streams.

To make sure needed regulations are stringent enough to meet the EPA’s required limits, Vermont is developing a new tool to track phosphorus reductions. But the time needed to make progress in cutting pollution coming from agriculture and development – coupled with additional time needed to course-correct from any insufficient regulations – could add unacceptable delay to the already-long timeframe for reducing phosphorus from these sources.

Over the upcoming months and years, CLF will be keeping a close eye on Vermont’s plans to implement the TMDL and will be making sure immediate controls are put in place to lower the amount of phosphorus entering the lake.

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