Lake Champlain will get a $4 million increase in federal clean-up funds this year. But the Environmental Protection Agency says Vermont still needs to develop a funding source of its own.
The additional money almost doubles the amount under the EPA’s Lake Champlain program.
Sen. Patrick Leahy actually secured the funds back in March when Congress passed a government spending bill. But Leahy, the vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, staged a victory lap Monday in Burlington with state and federal officials.
“The president’s budget targeted this program for elimination," said Leahy. "I said that’s not going to happen."
The money is aimed at reducing phosphorus pollution from urban runoff, farms and sewage treatment plants.
The state is also committed to coming up with long-term funding. EPA Region 1 Administrator Alexandra Dunn said the new federal funds do not free Vermont from its obligations under the terms of the lake cleanup plan.
The plan, known as the “total maximum daily load,” or TMDL, sets the total allowed phosphorus budget for various sections of the lake.
“The state is still required under the TMDL to develop a long-term funding source,” Dunn said. “The funding as you heard discussed today is allocated to a variety of different projects. What the state source of funding will do is allow this to continue regardless of fluctuations in federal spending. And that is still critical.”
EPA evaluated Vermont’s lake cleanup efforts in April and gave the state a “provisional pass” in part because the Legislature and the Scott Administration have failed to secure a long-term funding source. Dunn said she’s hopeful that can happen next year.
“We recognize the Legislature has been studying this. And we recognize the state is committed to it,” said Dunn. “We do want to see hard work; we’ve seen good progress, and we want the progress to continue.”
Various bills in the legislature included funding mechanisms or studies of how to fund the cleanup but those didn't make it into law.
Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said the pressure is on to secure a funding source that can be sustained over time.
“These federal funds are an annual appropriation, in many ways similar to the funds we're able to receive through the capital bill and the Legislature,” she said. “I think everybody is interested in finding a source of funding that will be there year in and year out."
The phosphorus pollution targeted by the state and the EPA feeds toxic algae that blooms during the warm summer months, primarily in the lake’s northern bays.
The EPA’s Dunn said she’s hopeful this summer will bring fewer blooms.
But climate change has made the problem worse with with warmer temperatures and increased precipitation that causes more runoff.
“As we embrace this upcoming summer season we certainly hope we see a reduction, but we should reassess at the end of the summer,” Dunn said. “That may also keep the pressure on. If the summer isn’t what we expect it to be, it’s going to be clear we still have a long journey.”
The federal budget also boosts funding for the lakes fisheries program by $1.5 million. That money will pay for sea lamprey control, and help sturgeon, salmon and lake trout recover in Champlain.