EPA Plan To Reduce Algae-Fueling Phosphorus Is Problematic, Critics Say

Aug 26, 2015

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Vermont state government released new targets for reducing pollution in Lake Champlain and a detailed plan for how the state would reach those targets. But the plan is already attracting some criticism.

The EPA's targets require a more than 30 percent reduction in phosphorus flowing into the lake.

Stephen Perkins, Lake Champlain project manager for the EPA, says the federal agency has looked closely at at the state's implementation plan and is confident that the measures proposed will meet the targets.

The plan aims to reduce phosphorus from a variety of sources including farm fields, paved surfaces and dirt roads.

"We are in a good position to specifically evaluate how these measures would affect the concentrations in the water. And it's our finding that the measures that are in the state's plan and the extent of those measures is sufficient for us to find that the state's allocations can be made," Perkins says.

Phosphorus fuels the algae bloom that affect the lake in the summer. The blooms can cause health problems and have reduced property values.

The new pollution targets came about after the Conservation Law Foundation sued the EPA in 2008, claiming an earlier plan to clean up the lake was insufficient under the Clean Water Act. CLF Vermont director Chris Kilian says the targets are a positive step, but he has significant concerns with parts of the state's implementation plan.

"We are disappointed that so much of the burden seems to be put on very aggressive and we think very difficult-to-achieve retrofits of dirt roads in the watershed when it appears that commercial activities will only receive a pretty light touch with regard to retrofits," Kilian says.

"And we remain concerned that wastewater treatment plants throughout the basin will essentially be allowed to expand how much phosphorus they're permitted to put in the watershed for a significant period of time."

"We remain concerned that wastewater treatment plants throughout the basin will essentially be allowed to expand how much phosphorus they're permitted to put in the watershed for a significant period of time." - Christopher Kilian, Conservation Law Foundation

Kilian says CLF will present these concerns to the agencies before the public comment period closes on September 15.

Follow VPR News' reporting on water quality in Vermont in our ongoing series, Downstream.