Deadline looming for Vermont lake cleanup plan
Vermont officials are finalizing details of a plan due Monday to reduce stormwater runoff into Lake Champlain to avoid costly federal intervention.
Runoff over the years has been blamed for polluting Vermont’s signature lake and causing excessive algae growth that has turned some of its waters murky shades of green, brown or blue.
Officials say it has also hurt tourism, depressed property values and increased water treatment costs.
David Mears, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said Friday the agency is still polishing the report, which will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’re working right up to the wire,” Mears said.
Versions of the plan were outlined in November and February and include enhancing water quality rules for agriculture, requiring additional stormwater treatment for developed areas and improving rules for managing rivers and floodplains.
Cleaning up Vermont’s most famous body of water has been a long-standing goal, but Mears said officials have learned over the last decade the necessary steps to reduce pollution.
That includes targeting hot spots of runoff, such as sloped lands or roads that wash out frequently. Municipalities and agencies would also be required to act on recommendations, as opposed to being encouraged to voluntarily choose best practices.
Extensive coordination between various state agencies and leaders helped them craft a workable plan.
“It’s been an ‘all hands on deck’ project,” Mears said.
Stephen Perkins, an EPA director of ecosystem protection, said Vermont’s plan will directly address runoff coming from the roads and farm sectors for the first time.
“Vermont has a chance to break some ground here, and we’ll see if that’s the case,” Perkins said.
When the EPA receives the plan, it will estimate pollution reduction and might recommend how the state can improve the plan. Gov. Peter Shumlin will sign a letter pledging the state’s commitment to fulfilling the goals by the end of April.
A 2013 estimate pegs the cost for cleaning up all the state’s waterways at about $155 million over a decade. Mears said it’s too soon to discuss costs and revenue sources, but that the state will be able to spend “substantially less” than that estimate to see improvement.
If the state’s implementation plan doesn’t meet EPA expectations, the EPA could issue sweeping regulations that would apply to sewage plants, which aren’t considered the main factors in the lake’s pollution.
“There’s no question that we’re up against a wall,” Mears said.
But he said the agency has support from community members, who are eager to restore the lake to its once-pristine condition.
“Everybody wants the lake cleaned up,” Mears said.
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