Final Guidelines For Lake Champlain Phosphorus Pollution Levels Issued

Jun 21, 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued the phosphorus pollution limits for the Vermont segments of Lake Champlain. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports on what the limits mean for the lake.

The EPA issued the final phosphorus Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, for each of the 12 lake segments in Vermont on June 17th.  A TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can absorb to safely meet water quality standards.

Phosphorus pollution is reaching Lake Champlain from a number of sources including water treatment facilities and runoff from agricultural lands, development and roadways, and stream corridors. Excessive phosphorus has led to algae blooms in some shallow bays.

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz says the final TMDL from the EPA allows the state to move forward with water quality program implementation.   “This is going to require us to do things differently across the board in Vermont. We're going to have to manage our dirt roads differently. We're going to have to manage our stormwater in our urban and suburban areas differently. We're going to have to manage our farms differently as well. And we're going to have to really take a look at our rivers and streams to see what we could be doing to stabilize those banks so we've got less stream bank erosion.”

Vermont set phosphorus pollution levels for Lake Champlain in 2002.  The EPA reopened the TMDL limits in 2011 in response to a lawsuit filed in 2008 by the Conservation Law Foundation questioning the calculations.  CLF is the host organization for Lake Champlain LakeKeeper Rebekah Weber.   “There's a new monitoring tool that's coming out from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. We'll be able to pay attention to the rules and permits that are coming out to make sure that the actual reductions are what we think they should be. That being said CLF is going to make sure that we're paying close attention to what these rules and regulations are saying and whether they're stringent enough.”

Lake Champlain Basin Program Technical Coordinator Eric Howe says while the newly released TMDL phosphorus loads are calculated on individual lake segments, each portion of the lake will take decades to recover.   “The target is how much phosphorus can the lake absorb without seeing algae blooms occur for example or excessive aquatic plant growth. We can push the phosphorus loading in the main lake down below the target within 10 to 20 years perhaps and Mississquoi Bay in 20 to 30 years.”

Lake Champlain International Executive Director James Ehlers says the targets established in this TMDL are more in line with what phosphorus limits should be, but he would have preferred a more aggressive plan.  “We’re still looking at 30 to 40 years before there is any tangible improvement and TMDL’s do not include any remediation. It is not acceptable to us that the communities that are already chronically plagued with toxic cynobacteria issues should not have some sort of immediate relief.”

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources will begin scheduling public hearings on the new limits within the next six weeks.