Vt. House passes landmark bill to improve water quality

MONTPELIER, Vt. —Under pressure from Washington to do more to attack water pollution that has impaired dozens of Vermont waterways — including Lake Champlain — the House Thursday answered with a landmark piece of legislation.

The plan called for in Bill H.35 includes new regulation, enforcement and technical guidance for farmers and municipalities to help reduce the flow of phosphorus that enters rivers and streams.

“H.35 is not just about Lake Champlain,” said Rep. David Deen of Westminster, a point person in the floor debate. “It’s about the impaired segments of the Battenkill (River), Lake Carmi, the Connecticut River, the Rock River, Tickle Naked Pond (in Ryegate) Lake  Memphremagog and the 81 other state waters that are impaired and require cleanup plans.”

The bill passed 133-11 with support from lawmakers from every corner of Vermont.

A handful of Republicans, including Milton Rep. Don Turner, said they support the policy but not the $8 million in a range of higher fees and taxes that will fund it.


Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said his agency will see additional staff to begin inspection and certification of thousands of Vermont farms that will be expected to comply with a list of “accepted agriculture practices” that control runoff.

“For small farmers who’ve not been aware of and have not been trying to figure out how to comply with AAPs every day and every year, there may be some significant changes,” said Ross.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been waiting to see whether Vermont adopts a serious plan this spring to address water quality issues or may impose a plan of its own.

Gov. Peter Shumlin says that would be far more expensive and less effective.

Deen said H.35 will begin a long-term commitment. Palpable improvement, especially in the severely impaired areas of Lake Champlain, will take time.

“In terms of blue-green algae blooms, I don’t want to hold out any hope it’s going to get better next year,” Deen said. “It’s going to take five to 10 years in order to stop the (phosphorus) input and once you stop the input, it’s still there.”

The EPA has not said whether H.35 will satisfy its demand for state action.

The bill now moves to the Senate where it is expected to see action in the coming weeks.

Some environmentalists would like to see a stronger bill emerge this session.

In a statement, Kim Greenwood with the Vermont Natural Resources Council said, “While H.35 is a modest step, it’s nevertheless a good step – a long overdue step – in the right direction. We will be urging even bolder action in the Senate.”


Photo: Algae blooms fouled St. Albans Bay on Lake Champlain last summer. WPTZ

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