EPA Wants Lake Champlain Cleanup Details In A Hurry

Jan 22, 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling for more details in the state’s plan to reduce pollution flowing into Lake Champlain.

A Jan. 17 letter [PDF] from the agency applauded the state’s ongoing efforts to develop a plan to reduce phosphorus pollution. Phosphorus can lead to toxic blue-green algae blooms that have appeared in the big lake in recent years.

But the state’s proposal doesn't have sufficient detail to give the EPA confidence that the cleanup will be enough.

“Generally, the proposal lacks the specific details of what will be done by when,” the letter said.

The EPA calls for information about specific pollution control measures, how they will be implemented and how those changes will be funded.

The state is going through this planning process after it’s last plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), was rejected by the EPA three years ago. That plan was rejected when the Conservation Law Foundation called into question whether a 2002 TMDL was effective enough in cleaning up the lake.

Anthony Iarrapino is the Conservation Law Foundation attorney who raised the issue. One of his concerns, he said, was that the 2002 plan didn’t address climate change.

While state officials have since acknowledged the importance of dealing with climate change issues, the Jan. 17 EPA letter says the state’s new draft of a plan doesn’t go far enough.

“Climate change is another area that needs to be addressed throughout the proposal,” the letter said, calling for an additional section specifically dealing with that issue.

Despite that criticism, Iarrapino said he was optimistic about the state’s efforts.

“That recognition is there that it’s an issue we need to deal with now,” he said. “But the question that remains unanswered is: How are we going to deal with climate change? How are we going to improve our pollution control methods? How are we going to innovate on some of those methods to make sure that they are matched to the scale of the climate change problem that we face with clean water?”

David Mears, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said he wasn’t surprised by anything in the EPA letter and that he appreciated the input. His major issue with the letter was the aggressive timeline it set forth for completion of the new state plan.

The EPA letter calls for a completed plan by March 31, just over two months away.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Mears. “And it’s going to be a real sprint for us to be able to collect that information and compile it, make sure that we share the ideas and information we’ve put forward with all of the folks that are going to be affected, and also with legislators.”

Mears is working with Chuck Ross, secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets on the plan with EPA oversight. After officials finish the plan, the EPA expects a signed letter of commitment from Gov. Peter Shumlin by the end of April.