Lawmakers consider lake pollution bill

05/02/07 12:00AM By John Dillon
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(Host) Lake Champlain is getting some attention from the Vermont Legislature.

Lawmakers are frustrated with the pace of clean-up. So they're considering a bill that may force the state to re-examine the way it controls water pollution in the big lake.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Vermont has spent about $49 million in state and federal money to improve water quality in the lake and its tributaries.

But according to a report from the state's "Clean and Clear" program, the lake isn't yet getting much cleaner, or clearer.

Tim Burke is the Lake Champlain "lakekeeper" for the Conservation law Foundation.

(Burke) "Despite the fact that we've spent close to $50 million over the last few years on lake clean-up programs, they're not able to demonstrate any significant progress towards reducing phosphorus levels in Lake Champlain. And it's the phosphorus that turns parts of the lake into a pea-green stinky mess every summer."

(Dillon) The legislation requires an audit of the Clean and Clear program.

And it requires a re-assessment of the main phosphorus reduction plan for the big lake. The plan has the ungainly acronym of TMDL, short for Total Maximum Daily Load.

The plan limits phosphorus from both point sources, like sewage treatment plants and non-point sources, such as the run-off from farm fields and city streets.

The bill also says the state has to re-open the plan in July 2008. That could lead to tighter controls on phosphorus. Burke says further reductions are needed.

(Burke) "The agency's own reports indicate that the information we've gained in the four and a half years since the TMDL was in effect has shown it's not going to work. It's not going to get the lake back to where it meets Vermont's water quality standards."

(Dillon) Westminster Representative David Deen chairs the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee. He says it will take time to see any improvements.

(Deen) "There is really no way to remove phosphorus in a quick, easy way. So yes, there is a level of frustration but I think some caution is warranted in saying we're just going to open this thing and start from scratch."

(Dillon) The Douglas Administration is not trying to block the legislation. Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg says progress is being made through the Clean and Clear program.

Wennberg says the problem may not be in the phosphorus reduction targets set by the state plan, but in how it's being implemented on the ground and in the watersheds.

(Wennberg) "There are areas of the implementation I would say where the benefits have not been as apparent as we certainly had hoped it would be."

(Dillon) The House and Senate have passed their own versions of the lake bill. So a House-Senate conference committee is expected to work out the differences.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon.
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