The state has declined to make best management practices mandatory for farms in the Missisquoi Bay watershed.
The shallow bay on the northern end of Lake Champlain frequently sees summertime blooms of toxic blue green algae. The algae blooms are fueled in part from farm-run off in the heavily agricultural region.
But Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross has decided not to require the management practices that environmentalists argued farmers need to follow in the watershed. However, in his decision Ross said he will take steps to more aggressively control farm pollution, including directing the agency's agricultural water quality program to accelerate "water quality compliance and enforcement activities in the Missisquoi Bay Basin.
In May, the Conservation Law Foundation submitted a petition to reduce phosphorus run off by forcing high-polluting farms to follow "best management practices." These include wide buffers between fields and streams, keeping livestock away from streams and properly storing manure.
In his 18-page ruling, Ross said that the actions sought by CLF would be inconsistent with the Environmental Protection Agency's ongoing process for water quality improvement in the lake through establishing a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for phosphorus.
Ross also said the state doesn't have the resources available to help the basin’s farmers achieve compliance with mandatory BMPs, as required by state law.
Ross' decision was made public the same day the Agency of Natural Resources released its own report on improving water quality in Vermont, including in Lake Champlain. The report listed a number of priorities. At the top of the list for controlling farm pollution was implementing best management practices.
"Agricultural non-point sources of phosphorus account for approximately 40 percent of the overall phosphorus load delivered to the lake from Vermont," the ANR report said.
The ANR report recommended more enforcement of state agricultural water quality permit programs, increased education efforts targeted at small farms, 25-foot buffer areas along streams and lake shores, and 10-foot buffers between field and road-side ditches.