Improving Our Waterways

This week, the Addison Independent’s series of issue statements from senate candidates continues with a discussion of water quality and clean-up efforts. Here is the prompt and my response:

Several years ago, the EPA gave Vermont the option of coming up with its own plan to clean up the Lake Champlain water basin, or they would impose their own solution on the state. The Legislature took that demand seriously and came up with several ideas, though no plan was passed to raise adequate funding. If you are elected to the Senate, would you take the EPA’s demand seriously? If you believe that it’s necessary to improve the water quality, what specific measures would you support and how would you fund those initiatives? What would you do to help farmers further address the phosphorus coming off their farms, and how would you address run-off from cities/developed properties, municipal water treatment plants, forests and other natural sources? How would you pay for your plans?

Vermont’s waterways are crucial to the well-being of our state and its residents. Clean water promotes personal health, economic vitality, agriculture and forestry initiatives, recreation opportunities, and important wildlife habitats. I take the challenge of cleaning up Lake Champlain and other waterways seriously because doing so is vital to the future of Vermont.

The EPA has required Vermont to reduce its total maximum daily load (TMDL) of phosphorus into the Lake Champlain Basin from all sources including agriculture, developed lands, wastewater, streams, and forested lands. Excess phosphorus promotes toxic algae blooms and water that is unhealthy for drinking, wildlife, and recreation. Because all land-use contributes to phosphorus contamination, all landowners should be required to be part of the solution.

Vermont has promoted an “all-in” approach, and a significant amount of work has already been done to lay the groundwork for water quality improvements. Act 64 of 2015, the Vermont Clean Water Act, strengthened regulatory authority, established the Clean Water Fund, and created state-level administrative structures to oversee this work.

In Addison County, there is evidence of progress. Middlebury’s efforts to protect the Otter Creek wetlands and also implement restoration of the Middlebury River in East Middlebury will mitigate future flooding and reduce sediment and contamination in waterways. State work along Route 7 in North Ferrisburgh established roadway plantings and improved culverts and buffers to better capture and filter highway runoff. Vergennes is in the early phases of planning a sewer upgrade which would reduce overflows into Otter Creek. Farmers across the county are using best management practices such as cover cropping, rotational grazing, conversion to organic, and anaerobic biodigesters.

These and similar methods for reducing phosphorus contamination and mitigating water pollution are crucial, and need to be recognized, incentivized, and supported. Because so much work has already been done, best practices have been established and regulations are generally in place. Now we must establish 1) clear and fair enforcement measures; 2) cross-sector, public-private partnerships that ensure entities are working together; and 3) a long-term funding source that is equitable, effective, and stable.

The annual all-source funding gap was estimated at over $60 million in early 2017. At that time, the State Treasurer’s report identified numerous existing revenue sources that could be tapped for short-term funding, consisting of a mix of bonds, loans and grants from a variety of governmental and some private sources. Using existing revenue sources is optimal, but insufficient. Public resources are important to ensure universal progress and offset the cost for those struggling to meet requirements. I would support the State Treasurer’s recommendation of some type of parcel or impervious/paved surface fee because of the connection to stormwater runoff and ability to ensure everyone contributes toward these efforts.

Finally, water quality issues are a statewide challenge, and are also impacted by toxic chemicals that leach into drinking water. To ensure the health of Vermonters and particularly children, who are most susceptible to environmental contamination, we should take a statewide, holistic approach to clean water issues.

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