EPA Focusing on Farm Phosphorus Runoff For Lake Champlain Cleanup

Farm Phosphorus Runoff Targeted in EPA Findings

Last year Vermont proposed a Lake Champlain water quality improvement plan, as required by the Clean Water Act, to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But the EPA’s pollution models showed that the plan would not restore the water quality to the state standards in either the South Lake and Missisquoi Bay watersheds.


“Those segments of the lake will require significant reductions,” ~ Dave Deegan, from EPA’s New England Regional Office.

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Blue green algae blooms are caused by nutrients dumped into waterways by farm phosphorus runoff


Fertilizer runoff from farms will be targeted in these areas, state officials say. In some areas where agriculture accounts for most of the phosphorus flowing into lake, farmers will have to exceed current legal obligations to reduce runoff and erosion from their farms.


“Our presence is going to be increased. The actions on the part of farmers will be amplified,” ~ Chuck Ross, Vermont Agriculture Secretary


Vermont’s New Water Quality Bill

Vermont’s new Water Quality Bill calls for funding 8 new positions at the Agency of Agriculture, this year. According to Vermont Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross the agency will travel to these watersheds this summer to educate farmers about the legally required practices to prevent pollution.

Runoff from Farm fields

Unprotected farm fields yield topsoil as well as farm phosphorus runoff and other potential pollutants when heavy rains occur.

When those new efforts are not enough, he said the state will ask farmers to implement other measures that could include cover cropping, planting wider buffers between waterways, rotating different crops or taking land out of production. Ross said he expects some might choose to sell their farms instead of making the required changes.

But he added that the practices would be unique to each farm and targeted to those areas where they can improve water quality.


Farmers will have financial support this year for water quality protection projects. Last year the state received more than $60 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants over five years for conservation projects to prevent soil erosion and fertilizer runoff. Ross said there is also state and federal money available to help farmer put land into conservation and transition from one type of farming to another.

Vermont will offer a new plan designed to help curb phosphorus runoff from farms in these most polluted sections of Lake Champlain. The state hopes to provide the EPA with an updated plan in the next two weeks, according to David Mears, Vermont commissioner for the Department of Environmental Conservation.


Will The New Measures Meet the EPA Standards?

The EPA will review that updated plan before it issues a total maximum daily load value (TMDL) for public review and comment. A TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant a body of water can accept and still meet quality standards. The EPA also intends to work with Vermont and review the newly passed Water Quality Bill before issuing the TMDL value.

The Water Quality Bill sets a timeline for the agency to propose new rules to protect water quality. If signed into law, the agency would:

  • by July 2016 set standards including mandatory cover cropping, exclusion of livestock from waterways and requirement that manure spreaders be certified.
  • by July 2017 require that small farms be certified for compliance with water quality laws.

According to the EPA, the new legislation, in addition to other initiatives that state agencies are working on, create additional measures to reduce phosphorus and build a ‘sturdy foundation’ for restoring water quality in Lake Champlain.


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