Years of clean water initiatives have started having an effect on the Lamoille River watershed, according to an interim progress report issued recently by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR).
According to ANR, clean water projects shrunk annual phosphorus loading into the Lamoille River by 850 kilograms, with the state attributing 300 kilograms of those reductions to state-funded programs.
Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 2015, the state has spent more than $5.3 million on water quality projects within the Lamoille River’s watershed.
The Lamoille River watershed was one of the first segments in the Lake Champlain Basin to receive an interim report under Vermont’s Lake Champlain total maximum daily load (TMDL) agreement.
Under the TMDL agreement, Vermont is required to issue interim reports on each of the Lake Champlain Basin’s segments to inform the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement and reporting on the lake’s TMDL agreement.
The Lamoille River stretches 85 miles from its headwaters in Lamoille County and the Northeast Kingdom, ultimately passing through some of the state’s largest communities before draining into Lake Champlain near Milton and Colchester.
According to the state’s interim progress report on the Lamoille River, projects that received state funding vary across the land use sectors informing the Lake Champlain TMDL.
“Overall, progress has been made in each sector,” the report read.
Within Milton, a stormwater master plan has identified 60 projects in the town, according to a previous Independent report, and the state’s interim TMDL progress report suggests that plan would be leveraged to inform a phosphorus control plan for meeting the Lake Champlain TMDL’s phosphorus reduction goals.
The town is also cited in the report for land development review and regulations and the completion of culvert upgrades and drainage improvements.
According to the report, the Vermont Agency of Transportation is still looking for a funding source and partners on repairing an eroding access road along Interstate 89’s southbound lane near a Lamoille River tributary.
Throughout the watershed, planning projects remain ongoing and work is being done to control phosphorus runoff from farmland, where phosphorus is a common component of fertilizers, including manure.
The report estimates that more than 1,151 acres of farmland within the Lamoille River watershed have been cover cropped, and the Agency of Agriculture is reportedly continuing outreach efforts within the watershed to help farmers draft nutrient management plans governing fertilizer use and adopt conservation-minded agricultural practices now required under statute.
Phosphorus, a vital nutrient for plant growth, can be washed into waterways during rain events and fuel cyanobacteria blooms more commonly known as “blue-green algae.”
Cyanobacteria can sometimes be toxic and can pose environmental hazards and safety risks that often lead to beach closures during the summer.
According to the state’s overall Clean Water Initiative 2019 report, more than $84 million have been invested in clean water projects in the Lake Champlain Basin since the 2016 fiscal year, with most of that funding directed toward either agriculture-related projects or upgrades to wastewater facilities.
Those improvements, as well as those funded through federal programs, have led to 16.4 metric tons less of phosphorus washing into the Lake Champlain Basin since the 2015 passage of the Clean Water Act.
While much of that progress was attributed to agricultural projects, the state is under federal orders to support improvements in all land use sectors informing the TMDL agreement.
Under the TMDL agreement, the state is obligated to reduce the amount of phosphorus loaded annually into Lake Champlain by 268 metric tons.
While progress was reported in meeting those goals, the state’s Clean Water Initiative report for 2019 warns progress in Lake Champlain could be challenged as the watershed continues urbanizing and suburbanizing and as climate change continues impacting the environment.
According to ANR, climate change, the well-documented warming of the climate since the Industrial Revolution, is expected to bring more intense rainfalls and storms capable of washing phosphorus into the watershed and has already brought longer growing seasons for cyanobacteria blooms.
In a press release announcing the issuance of the state’s Clean Water Initiative report and its accompanying interim TMDL reports, state officials heralded some of the progress made in the Lake Champlain Basin.
Gov. Phil Scott said he was “pleased to see that financial investments and the hard work of many public and private partners are paying off in the improved health of waterways around Vermont.
Meanwhile, while Secretary of Natural Resources Julie Moore agreed there was positive progress in the Lake Champlain watershed, she warned there was still an extensive amount of work needed before the state would achieve its federally mandated water quality goals.
“Lake Champlain is a larger complex natural system that has been impacted by phosphorus pollution for decades and it will take many years of steadfast stewardship for the lake to recover,” Moore said in a statement. “This report provides intermediate measures of progress that indicate... that we are on the right track and the collective efforts of local, state and federal organizations are making a difference.”
Neither report detailed federal investments within the Lake Champlain Basin.