Lake Champlain

Taylor Dobbs / VPR/file

The Shumlin Administration Thursday unveiled its latest cleanup plan to reduce phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain from all sources. But the plan lacked details on how officials would enforce new regulations and how the state would pay for the needed changes.

David Mears, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and other department heads, said the plan will work  by increasing regulation on sources such as farm runoff, stream bank erosion, road management and logging practices.

John Dillon / VPR File Photo

One of the most beautiful parts of Lake Champlain has also become its most polluted. The shorelands of Missisquoi Bay have been designated by the Ramsar Convention as a vital wetland, and its waters support a unique wildlife habitat.

But large farming operations along rivers feeding into the bay have led to phosphorus levels in some cases double the target limits. And according to Anthony Iarrapino, staff attorney at the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation, the bay suffers from more high-alert toxic algae blooms than any other part of Lake Champlain.

Federal regulators have pressured the Shumlin Administration to show how it plans to curb the flow of pollution into Lake Champlain. The Environmental Protection Agency says the state’s most recent proposal is lacking. And the EPA has served notice that it wants a more aggressive plan for action.

House lawmakers have given final approval to legislation that aims to expedite the clean-up of Vermont waterways. But the bill that passed the floor Thursday doesn’t include any funding for the effort. And even its chief proponent says it won’t address the pollution crisis unfolding in places like Lake Champlain.

John Dillon / VPR File

Gov. Peter Shumlin has unveiled an updated plan to clean up Lake Champlain. And administration officials say it’s the most ambitious proposal yet. But clean water advocates say the report will do little to head off an ecological disaster in the state’s largest body of water.

David Mears, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, says the clean-up proposal submitted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday is a bold step forward in the decades-old effort to curb pollution flowing into Lake Champlain.

John Dillon / VPR File

The state’s last plan to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain was rejected by the Environmental Protection Agency. The plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), did not take into account the effects of climate change, according to the EPA, and was not specific enough it its requirements.

David Mears, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation has been working to release the final version of the TMDL by the end of March.

John Dillon / VPR File

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.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

As the state prepares to set a new course for Lake Champlain cleanup, wastewater treatment plants across Vermont continue to dump millions of gallons of polluted water into Lake Champlain and other waterways.

Most of the plant operators responsible for the unauthorized releases aren’t penalized in any way.

“There’s no question that all of the sewage treatment plants in Vermont, at least in the Lake Champlain basin, are going to have to do more to reduce phosphorus levels,” said David Mears, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

State and federal environmental agencies began a series of public meetings this week about a new plan to curb excessive pollution from Vermont into Lake Champlain.

According to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Vermont needs to cut the amount of phosphorus it allows into Lake Champlain by 36 percent.

The meetings mark the beginning of the final phase of a years-long process to develop a plan to clean up the lake.

The Village of Essex Junction has experienced three large accidential discharges from the municipal water treatment facility in the last three months.

Two of the releases totaled between 500,000 and 1 million gallons, but water quality superintendent Jim Jutras said all of the recent releases have been near the end of the treatment process and were not raw sewage.

The recent problems at the facility all center around the chlorination and dechlorination of wastewater, which must be completed before it is released into the Winooski River.

Toby Talbot / AP

The federal government shutdown has delayed a key project in the state’s continuing effort to clean up Lake Champlain.

Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears said the state’s work with a team of EPA scientists and policy experts was put on hold this month because the federal officials were furloughed.

AP/ Toby Talbot

A federal budget squeeze threatens to cut off funding for equipment that researchers use to predict floods and pinpoint the amount of pollution flowing into Lake Champlain.

Ten stream gages in the Champlain watershed are scheduled to be turned off next month unless another funding source is found.

Senator Patrick Leahy is pressing for more research and education regarding the pollution-threatened Lake Champlain.

Leahy was among the dignitaries to speak at the start of a two-day environmental summit entitled "Blue Water in Green Mountains."

The gathering came as the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center turns 10 years old. Leahy said lake-based education and research preceded the building's opening, and must continue.