Phase two begins on Lake Champlain cleanup

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – The EPA continues to monitor progress on the cleanup of Lake Champlain.

Recent work dates back to 2015, with Vermont’s passage of the Clean Water Act and has continued ever since.

The Community Sailing Center in Burlington says the cleanup of the lake is becoming crucial, as demand for time on the water increases.

“We often call Lake Champlain the sixth great lake,” said Owen Milne, the executive director of the Community Sailing Center.

Milne says the health of Lake Champlain is everything.

“The demand for this lake is increasing, which is great, fantastic,” said Milne.

But Milne says increased demand also means an emphasis will be put on issues Lake Champlain has.

Cleanup of the lake is a long-term project, with EPA targets more than 15 years away.

Milne says immediate issues like cyanobacteria mean less time on the lake.

“As much as we would like to say that things are getting better, we are the ones taking people out there to experience the lake, and they are getting worse,” said Milne.

Still, the EPA says Vermont is on course.

“We are starting to see some really good initial progress,” said Ken Moraff, the water director for the New England EPA.

Moraff says about 16% of the nutrient load reduction to the lake has already been achieved.

Most of that work was done in phase one of the lake cleanup plan, putting in regulatory tools, funding streams and a pollution load budget.

But with a 2038 target year, there is still an uphill battle ahead.

“Most of the work is still ahead of us, so what is really needed here is a commitment,” said Moraff. “What Vermont really needs to do is stay the course and continue to implement the tools that have been put in place to achieve these reductions. We are encouraged by what we have seen so far, but we need to keep working on the programs that have been put in place to continue to reductions.”

That commitment means consistent funding for projects and programs.

Vermont has established a long-term funding stream, but Moraff says the feds have also committed to an annual $20 million investment into the lake cleanup.

The bipartisan infrastructure law also committed $40 million over the next five years to Lake Champlain, part of that for climate change resiliency.

Milne says along with the funding, a culture shift is necessary.

“We are known as the Green Mountain State, but we are on the verge of becoming known as the green water state,” said Milne.

He says if Vermont wants to continue to be known nationally for its commitment to purity or nature, that means thinking more about our aqua asset.

“We all have a role to play in this asset that we all share,” said Milne.

The lake has entered phase two of the cleanup plan, so that means going over individual sections of the lake. That means looking at what individual basins in the lake need, and consistent check-ins at each of those basins.

The EPA says stormwater runoff, infrastructure and agriculture have some of the largest burdens to bear in the cleanup.

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