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EPA Report Cites Progress On Lake Champlain Cleanup, But Activist Remains Skeptical

A sign saying the beach is closed due to blue green algae.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
Blooms of cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, often cause beach closings in the summer. The Environmental Protection Agency says Vermont is on track to meet its cleanup goals for Lake Champlain.

The Environmental Protection Agency says Vermont is on track to meet its cleanup goals for Lake Champlain, an assessment one leading environmental activist finds dubious.

The EPA’s interim report card says the state's efforts so far have cut phosphorus pollution by 17 metric tons, or about 8% of the total target.

More from VPR: Auditor: State Not Pursuing Most Cost-Effective Ways To Cut Lake Champlain Pollution

Phosphorus is the nutrient that feeds the toxic algae blooms in the lake. In its report, the EPA evaluated the state’s work in the Lamoille River and Missisquoi River basins of the Champlain watershed.

“While the focus of this interim report card is on the two tactical basin plans, we are pleased to note the many broader accomplishments documented in the 2019 performance report,” wrote Melville Cote, the chief of the EPA’s surface water protection branch.

"About a third of our overall work is looking for us to do things like restore riparian buffers, restore wetlands, improve the equilibrium of our streams and their ability to access their floodplains. And those things are hard to put back into place overnight." — Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore

Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said the work takes time, and that it will be decades before full results are seen.

“About a third of our overall work is looking for us to do things like restore riparian buffers, restore wetlands, improve the equilibrium of our streams and their ability to access their floodplains,” she said. “And those things are hard to put back into place overnight. You know, trees need time to grow, wetlands vegetation needs time to re-establish.” 

Moore added phosphorus levels will not drop immediately.

“It will take a significant amount of time for water quality improvements to manifest themselves in our long-term data sets,” she said. “So it’s important to make sure that we’re making adequate annual progress with implementation efforts on the ground.”

"It doesn't matter what the politicians say, the lake does not lie. The metric that matters to me is the condition of the lake." — James Ehlers, Lake Champlain International policy director

Environmental activist James Ehlers was not impressed with the EPA’s latest report card. Ehlers, the policy director for Lake Champlain International, said the progress documented by the EPA is not nearly enough.

“We're spending millions in this bureaucratic shell game to tout an 8% reduction, where we need an 80% reduction in some locations,” he said. “It doesn't matter what the politicians say, the lake does not lie. The metric that matters to me is the condition of the lake.”

More from VPR: 'It's The Dairy Farm Sewer': Neighbors Say State Is Failing To Regulate Agricultural Pollution

Last year, algae blooms persisted in parts of the lake through the late fall. Ehlers said what’s needed is more aggressive regulation.

“If the state used its regulatory authority and said, ‘We’re not going to put phosphorus in this watershed, period.’ And I know that seems extreme to people,” he said. “I’m not discounting that. But what’s more extreme to my mind is that we’re continuing to pollute our drinking water source and pretending that we’re not.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter John Dillon @VPRDillon.

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