EPA voiced lake concerns last year

06/11/08 7:34AM By John Dillon
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(Host) Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency angered Governor Jim Douglas with its criticism of the state's efforts to clean up Lake Champlain.

But the EPA's concerns are not new.

A year ago, the federal agency told the state it needs to do more to cut phosphorus pollution in the big lake.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Governor Douglas reacted with outrage to the EPA letter that faulted some aspects of the state's clean up plan for Lake Champlain.

Douglas called the letter out of touch and scientifically baseless.

But the six page EPA letter was highly technical and was based on long-standing concerns about pollution problems in the big lake. It said Vermont needs to move quickly to control stormwater pollution. And it suggested that the state needs to set tighter limits on phosphorus pollution from a sewage treatment plant in St. Albans City.

That's the same message the EPA delivered last fall. Here's what Roger Janson of the agency's municipal permit office, told VPR last year.

(Janson) "The permit they have currently drafted and proposed for the .. waste water treatment facility may not be controlling phosphorus in the discharge to an appropriate level for the discharge into St. Albans Bay."

(Dillon) In an email sent last July, the EPA also called attention to the phosphorus pollution problems in St. Albans Bay.

Phosphorus fertilizes the toxic algae blooms that harm the lake. The agency said in the email - quote - "it would seem to make little sense" to add more phosphorus to a section of the lake that's already seriously damaged.

But Vermont's $60 million dollar lake clean up plan focuses on non-point pollution, not tighter limits on sewage plants. Laura Pelosi is the commissioner of environmental conservation.

She says 90 percent of the phosphorus comes from non-point pollution, such as run-off from farms and streets.

(Pelosi) "What is very clear is that Vermont has gone through the process of looking at waste water treatment plants... and we've done what we can do. We're at a point of diminishing returns now. So the focus really needs to be in terms of our time, energy and money resources looking at non-point control.''

(Dillon) The EPA declined to comment, citing the intense reaction from the governor.

Agency officials said they hoped to meet with the state soon and discuss the issue face-to-face.

Bill Bartlett is former executive officer of the state Water Resources Board and an expert in state and federal water law. He said the EPA letter simply reiterated long-standing concerns.

(Bartlett) "There really is nothing new here, maybe in detail, but not in concept."

(Dillon) Bartlett said he was surprised by the state's reaction to the EPA letter.

(Bartlett) "It's obviously a political season, so that's perhaps part of it. And I think also there's some weaknesses in the approach that Vermont has taken to cleaning up Lake Champlain that the EPA letter exposes. And that's uncomfortable."

(Dillon) Bartlett pointed out that the EPA letter also praised the state for designing good programs to control non-point pollution. But the agency said that after six years of work, the lake still isn't getting cleaner.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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