Vermont’s Environmental Court will decide whether farmers will be required to adopt best management practices for water quality controls in an effort to reduce manure runoff in the Missisquoi Bay watershed.
Last week the Conservation Law Foundation appealed the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s November decision not to require farms to use best management practices to prevent manure from flowing into waterways. Earlier this year, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) petitioned the state to enforce the new federal regulations.
Chris Kilian, vice president and Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation, speaking at a symposium at the ECHO Center in Burlington said farmers need to do their part to help clean up the lake.
“The time has come for mandatory best management practices on agricultural operations in Missisquoi watershed. The condition of the lake is horrific. This past summer was among the worst ever. The condition of Lake Carmi, also in that basin, is beyond description: it’s terrible. And that pollution is coming from farms.” ~ Chris Kilian, vice president and Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation
Chuck Ross, the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, rejected CLF’s petition because he said it conflicts with a process underway to work with the EPA to improve the lake’s water quality. Ross said the state is still committed to this plan, but added that the state does not have enough financial resources to help farmers implement the new best management practices.
The Environmental Protection Agency has required Vermont to develop a plan to restore Lake Champlain’s water quality. The state presented its plan in May, and a final ruling from the EPA is expected next spring. Part of the Vermont plan calls for new regulations on agricultural operations to reduce nutrient runoff.
Manure runoff from farms is the leading cause of phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain. Missisquoi and St. Albans bays were among the sections of the lake hardest hit by last summer’s toxic algae blooms. Vermont is increasing enforcement in Franklin County. The state recently fined one farmer for washing equipment in a nearby brook.
“It is clear… that the state, CLF and many other stakeholders share the same goal for Lake Champlain and the waters of the state,” ~ Chuck Ross, the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture
Many farmers support improving water quality, but afraid that new regulations could be too costly without state financial assistance. Currently, all farmers are required to follow accepted agricultural practices, or AAP’s. Best Management Practices are required to address water quality problems on the farms. The state’s plan would require that small farms file a certificate of compliance with the AAPs; this is currently required for medium and large farms. The plan also increases the size of vegetative buffers and livestock exclusion, along with other water quality improvement efforts.
Kilian argues that farming is a private, for-profit industry that must do its part to help clean up the pollution caused by agricultural practices.
“The Clean Water Act is very clear: best management practices are required. And they are not required with a public bailout for farmers. There is no need for more resources. This isn’t about money.” ~ Chris Kilian, vice president and Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation
The CLF petition requires farmers to plant cover crops, prevent livestock from entering streams, plant grassed waterways and use other techniques to keep nutrients on farms and out of the waterways. The petition would require enforcement of best practices in places identified as “critical source areas,” in which phosphorus loading in streams is greatest.
Vermont Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears, said the state agrees with much of what CLF is requesting, but has a different procedure in mind. “It’s good news for the state of Vermont that most of us agree that these are problems that need to be addressed,” he said. “The questions start to arise when we dig deeper into what authorities and what timelines.”
The CLF has also petitioned the DEC to require commercial, industrial and institutional property owners to get permits that limit the amount of stormwater pollution flowing from their properties. Vermont has twice asked for an extension to respond to the petition.
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