Efforts to clean up Lake Champlain are about to get a big boost from the federal government. Today, Jason Weller, chief of the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, visited Montpelier to announce that the state will be getting $16 million over the next five years.
One of the main goals of this project is to prevent phosphorus from farm runoff and other sources from seeping into the lake.
Sen. Patrick Leahy was one of the key players in getting Vermont this funding and is excited to see what the state can do with the money.
Leahy says it is the largest single funding of any project in the national program, and he thinks it’s because Vermont has always been serious about cleaning up Lake Champlain.
On the funding, Leahy says, “It’s going to mean that we’re going to be able to work with our farmers who care about water quality, but also land owners to plant cover crops, stabilize drainage waste, build stream crossing, wetlands conservation and sustainable forest practices … I’ve talked with the governor about it and we’re going to have our Vermont agencies of agriculture and natural resources get together.”
Leahy knows that the funding may push some farm and land owners to have to alter the way they’ve been working their land, but that says that overall Vermont is ready for the change: “I think people know some tough choices have to be made to stop this runoff into the lake. They’ll make the choices, but they need the money to do it."
Leahy says one of the conditions of the funding is that Vermonters need to show that they are serious about lake cleanup efforts. “I think that as they get into this, everybody’s going to have to realize they are going to have to give a little. The towns and roads are going to have to give some, developers are going to have to give some – everyone is going to have to be involved a little or it’s not going to work,” the senator says.
Estimates show that the Lake Champlain cleanup project could cost 10 times more than the funding announced today. But Leahy says he isn’t worried about getting additional federal money. “I’ve been able to get money for Lake Champlain when we’ve been in the minority, and when we’ve been in the majority. The thing that helps is that I’m the most senior member of the Senate and the dean of the Senate. I’ll be able to get the funding, provided that we can show that Vermont is doing the work that it has to do,” Leahy says.
In parallel with the federal funding, Gov. Peter Shumlin is working on a state-run "carrot and stick" approach to control water pollution from dairy farms. When asked what he thinks of Shumlin’s approach, Leahy says, “Well I’m not going to suggest to the state what they should do, but I think if the final result is that it works, everybody is going to benefit. Farmers are going to benefit because of clean water, all of us are going to benefit. We’re in this together, whether you’re a farmer or non-farmer.”
Leahy says he has full confidence in the leadership of Vermont, including the governor, to do what needs to be done to clean up Lake Champlain. “I’ve got the money, now let’s make it work,” says Leahy.