III. Non-point Pollution:

The greatest contributor to pollution in Lake Champlain is pollution from non-point sources.  Non-point source pollution is an externality stemming from agriculture, urban and suburban land usages that occur when water picks up pollutants on its journey from the land to the lake.  Anywhere along this path can the water become contaminated with pollutants such as phosphorous, nitrogen, bacteria, mercury, PCB’s and nutrients (EPA, 2004).  Unfortunately, while government regulations have implemented strong plans for dealing with point-sources such as sewage treatment plants and other industrial sites, little has been done to effectively control non-point sources of pollution. As a result, pollution from agriculture, atmospheric deposition and urban runoff has caused 64% of all U.S. lakes to become impaired, including Lake Champlain (EPA, 2004).

One of the solutions to mitigating non-point source pollutants is to implement best management practices (BMP’s).  These BMP’s are designed to increase filtration capabilities in order to prevent excessive runoff, particularly agricultural and urban runoff.  In Lake Champlain, the areas of the lake that have the highest phosphorous levels correspond to the watersheds with the highest percentage of agricultural lands and urban lands.  For example, The Mossisquoi Bay watershed in the northern section of the lake is responsible for 24.1% of total lake phosphorous levels and agriculture comprises approximately 70% of the land-use in the Mossissquoi watershed (Rechia, 2002; APNMAG).  More urbanized sections of the lake including the Main Section of Lake Champlain where land-use is 75% urban, contributes 14.1% of total lake phosphorous.  In total, agriculture accounts for 38% of all non-point sources in the basin while urban land-use accounts for 46% of non-point pollutants (LCBP).  In order to combat the effects from agriculture specifically, a program was enacted in 1996 to implement BMP projects on 449 farms in Vermont ( DAFM, 2001).  The overall goal of the project was to reduce phosphorous levels in the basin by 29,103 pounds annually (DAFM, 2001; Huber, 2003).  One of the main issues facing implementation of the project however, was the cost it would burden farmers.  A resulting Cost-Sharing program was designed to make BMP’s affordable to farmers.  With federal dollars as well as a state grant, 3.9 million dollars have been committed to the project (DAFM, 2001).  While the BMP’s come with a price, the benefits of better filtration will pay for itself with cleaner water.

One specific example of a lake that has successfully implemented a transnational BMP project that could serve as a model for the Lake Champlain Basin is a project for Lake Memphremagog in Northern Vermont and southern Quebec.  The project, which began in 1994, worked with 42 different farms to promote BMP’s (Stanley, 2004).  The overall purpose of was to reduce nutrient flows, paying specific attention to reducing phosphorous levels in order to prevent eutrphication.  Some of these management practices included implementing animal waste storage structures and barnyard runoff structures that would trap the pollutants before they enter nearby streams and rivers (Stanley, 2004).  As a result of these improved practices, overall water quality in Lake Memphremagog improved as there was a 10% reduction in total phosphorous entering the lake (Stanley, 2004).  In order to implement the strategies, cost-sharing programs were used to make it more affordable for farmers much like has been done for farms in the Lake Champlain Basin.

While specific plans have been put into place to combat non-point pollutants as seen through various cost-sharing initiatives in the Lake Champlain basin, The Champlain Basin is much larger than the Memphremagog basin so implementation is more difficult.  While overall lake health has not improved dramatically, specific locations in the lake have seen pollution reductions as a result of BMP enforcement, particularly in more urban areas.  Burlington Bay, Main Lake and Cumberland Bay have all seen reductions since 1994 while agricultural areas to the north including Mississquoi Bay and St Albans Bay have seen pollution increases (Rechia, 2002; APNMAG).  This indicates that while efforts in urban locations to reduce pollution by methods including filtration ponds, fertilizer reductions, street cleaning, stream buffers and so on have been helpful, agriculture runoff is still a huge problem and needs to be more of a focus in the Champlain Basin.

In order to combat the problem of agricultural runoff, wetland preservation needs to be emphasized.  Vermont has lost 35% of its Wetlands since Colonial times, a trend that must stop in order to protect water quality in Lake Champlain (Meals, 2007).  The Lake Champlain Basin Wetland Restoration Plan which is a plan designed specifically to help filter non-point pollutants promises to improve water quality from agricultural sources.  This plan, enacted in 2007, works with land owners to set aside fragile environments that could serve as potential wetland buffers (Meals, 2007).  In exchange for the land that will be converted into wetlands, land-owners are given either payment for the property or adjacent land that would not be of wetland value but could instead be used for agricultural purposes.  In total, 4883 sites across Vermont were found to be candidates for wetland restoration (Meals, 2007).  Many of these sites are located in areas that are currently used for agricultural purposes and are adjacent to water bodies that flow into the lake.  Having wetlands in these areas is invaluable as they function to retain more sediment and nutrients and also replenish groundwater (Meals, 2007).  Wetland filtration looks to be one of the more promising ideas for relinquishing the effects of non-point agricultural pollution and should be the main priority for future pollution reductions in the basin.

References:

Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets DAFM).  Best Management Practices State Financial Assistance Awards.  FY 2001 Report. January, 2001. http://www.vermontagriculture.com/ARMES/BMP2001Report.htm

Eric E. Huber. “TMDLs: White Knight of Bureaucratic Nightmare?” Vermont Journal of Environmental Law.   Volume 4.   2002-2003. http://www.vjel.org/journal/VJEL10013.html

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  National Water Quality Inventory:  Report to Congress, 2004 Reporting Cycle.  January 2009. http://www.epa.gov/owow/305b/2004report/

Meals, Donald.  Lake Champlain Basin Wetland Restoration Plan: Final Report.  Pioneer Environmental Associates, LLC.  December, 2007.  http://www.vtfpr.org/wprp/reportfinal.pdf

Recchia, Christopher. Environmental Protection Agency. Notification of Approval of the Lake Champlain Phosphorus TMDL.  Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.  November 4, 2002.  http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/tmdl/pdfs/vt/lakechamplain.pdf

Stanley, Paul.   “Best Management Practices Lead to Less Phosphorus in Lake Memphremagog.”   Environmental Protection Agency. 2004.  http://www.epa.gov/nps/Section319II/VT.html

Status and Trends of Lake Champlain Phosphorous Concentrations, 1990-2004.   http://www.apnmag.com/fall_2006/kasamaphosbig.jpg

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