Vermont Legislature passes water quality bill to clean lake
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Gov. Peter Shumlin said he was looking forward to signing what’s he’s calling the most significant clean water bill in the state’s history, a measure designed to counteract years of worsening pollution in Lake Champlain.
The legislation, given final approval on Wednesday, will help unlock tens of millions of dollars in federal funds and provide state funds to clean up waters in the lake’s watershed and across the state by reducing polluting runoff from farms, roads and other sources.
In addition to providing money for cleanup projects and technical support for people who need it, the legislation also carries an enforcement mechanism for people who refuse to comply with the law.
“It’s finally going to lead to Vermont cleaning up, over time, the blue-green algae and polluted water that has been plaguing us recently,” Shumlin said. “In a state where we cherish our natural resources, where we have the most beautiful state in the country, it’s unacceptable that we’re losing the battle for clean water. And this bill is going to put us on the path to recovery.”
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the decades trying to keep pollutants out of the lake, toxic algae blooms have grown, fed by phosphorus-laden runoff of rain and snowmelt from farms, roads and parking lots and discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants.
In his January inaugural address Shumlin warned that if Vermont didn’t take care of the problem, the federal Environmental Protection Agency could impose a more expensive solution on the state.
Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, the chairman of the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, the original sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday he was pleased.
“We will have to revisit it,” Deen said. “Something as large and as complex as this bill, we’re going to have to take a look at it next year, and the year after and the year after that to make sure that it’s operating and fine tune it so that it’s operating properly, but it’s big step in the right direction.”
The bill is aimed at Lake Champlain, but will also improve other waters in the state. It attempts to reduce the amount of pollutants that reach the lake in water running off from farms, roads, roofs and parking lots. State funding will come from a property transfer tax that is expected to raise $5.8 million the first year, Deen said.
But the bill will also make it possible to use grants and donations from private sources to help pay for the projects. And it will unlock tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for some of them, Deen said.
David Mears, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said the details would probably be unsettling at first to some people who will have to change the way they have been doing things for years.
“This shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anybody,” Mears said. “Across the state I’ve mostly been presented with a sense of enthusiasm by folks. Most of the communities around the state are supportive of the clean water goals, they just want to make sure that we do it in a way that’s cost effective and takes into consideration the fact that nobody’s got a lot of extra cash laying around.”
New York, whose lake border is less developed and has less farmland, and Quebec, which has a small section bordering the northern lake, also have worked to reduce pollution that enters the lake and its tributaries.