Report says parts of Lake Champlain getting dirtier

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(Host) The Douglas Administration says it’s on track to meet pollution control targets for Lake Champlain by 2009.

But a state report released this week shows that parts of the lake are getting dirtier. And environmental advocates say the administration still needs to do a better job of controlling pollution.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas brought three agency secretaries armed with large charts and graphs to his weekly news conference. The props and the officials were there to make the case that the administration is meeting targets to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain.

The main problem in the big lake is phosphorus, a natural fertilizer that flows into the lake from dirty streets and farm fields. In shallow parts of the lake, like Missisquoi Bay, phosphorus feeds the toxic algae blooms that can choke the waterways.

Governor Douglas says the administration has put phosphorus removal on a fast track and wants to meet reduction targets before the original goal of 2016.

(Douglas) “This timeline was unacceptable to me. We needed to do more, faster. That’s why I urged Governor George Pataki and Premier Jean Charest to join me in agreeing to accelerate this to 2009.”

(Dillon) But according to a state report released this week, key parts of the lake are getting dirtier, not cleaner.

Phosphorus levels are increasing in Saint Albans Bay and the Northeast arm of the lake. Seventeen rivers that flow into the lake are not meeting phosphorus targets, while seven do meet those targets.

In Missiquoi Bay – one of the most polluted areas of the lake, the Pike River in Quebec, is improving, while the Missisquoi River in Vermont is not.

(Burke) “If you focus on amount of money spent, it looks great. But if you focus on what is the actual water quality in different segments of the lake, it doesn’t look good.”

(Dillon Tim Burke is a former Vermont environmental commissioner who now works as the Lake Champlain lakekeeper for the Conservation Law Foundation.

He says the administration needs to improve efforts to control farm run off. And he says it should also focus on the pollution that comes from sewage treatment plants.

(Burke) “Almost all the sewer plants in the Champlain Valley are going to be able to put more phosphorus into the lake than they did in 2001. So we’re not confident that the implementation strategy is going to result in significant improvement of water quality in Lake Champlain.”

(Dillon) Tom Torti is Vermont’s Natural Resources secretary. He says the state will meet the 2009 deadline, but that it takes time for the clean up work to show results.

(Torti) “Any program like this – what you have to understand that the actual work on the ground in a particular year, in particular seasons, is not going to immediately equate to a significant reduction throughout that entire watershed.”

(Dillon) Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says Quebec does a better job in cutting pollution its part of the Lake Champlain watershed because of its strict farm pollution regulations.

But Governor Douglas says he wants the Vermont program to be farm friendly. So the Vermont program is targeted to help farmers build manure pits, and develop nutrient management plans to keep the phosphorus out of the lake.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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