Officials from Vermont, New York, Quebec and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all committed to combine their efforts to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain on Monday in the first updated pollution management plan since 2010.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed onto the new plan at an event in Crown Point, New York, alongside the commissioner from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation and Quebec’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change.
The plan, called Opportunities For Action, was developed by the Lake Champlain Basin Program as a means to guide the program’s funding and the water quality efforts by all governments in the Lake Champlain Basin.
The four main goals of the plan are clean water, a healthy ecosystem, thriving communities and an informed and involved public.
Scott said his administration’s focus on Vermont’s economy doesn’t mean he plans to take focus away from environmental issues.
“As we look to grow the economy, we need to look in every area, not just the obvious places,” Scott said. “That's why I propose to invest $55 million in clean water funding for the coming year, an increase of almost $23 million over current levels.”
An excess of phosphorus in Lake Champlain has caused toxic cyanobacteria blooms (also known as blue-green algae) in recent years, closing beaches and lowering property values along the lake.
Deborah Szaro is the acting Region 1 administrator for the EPA, overseeing New England. She says that besides being potentially toxic, those blooms make it harder for people to enjoy the lake.
“We don’t want those to happen. They ruin the beauty of the lake and impair our recreation and our use of that lake and that beautiful resource,” she said.
Getting phosphorus out of the lake is a challenge for government officials all over the Lake Champlain basin, Szaro said, but especially challenging for Vermont.
“We need a 34 percent reduction in Vermont alone, along with continued reductions in New York and Quebec, to meet our goals down the line,” she said.
The state has organized a comprehensive plan that outlines how officials plan to achieve those reductions, and it includes policies to reduce water pollution from every part of the landscape, from urban parking lots to farm fields to forests.