- Associated Press - Friday, June 15, 2018

GRAND ISLE, Vt. (AP) - Phosphorus levels in Lake Champlain and the amount of that pollution flowing in from lake tributaries are mostly stable - not increasing or decreasing - except in certain bays in the northern lake where levels have increased, according to a report on the state of the lake released Friday.

Overall, the report from the Lake Champlain Basin Program found that Lake Champlain continues to be a source of high-quality drinking water, is safe for swimming most times and is a good for fishing, with anglers catching record fish in 2016 and 2017.

The report comes as the state seeks to find a long-term funding source for the cleanup of phosphorus runoff that has led to toxic algae blooms. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has mandated Vermont clean up the lake. The legislature outlined a plan in 2015 calling for several steps including the management of manure from farms, buffer zones near waterways and ditches and the reduction of runoff from parking lots.

The administration of Republican Gov. Phil Scott has estimated the state will need up to $25 million annually over the next 20 years for lake cleanup.

The lake brings in $300 million a year in Vermont tourism, the report said. That helps to illustrate “the value and connection between water and the economy,” said Scott, who said he’s committed to the implementation of the Lake Champlain phosphorus loading limit and the state’s clean water act. He said Vermont’s fiscal year 2018 budget and the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 include more than $50 million per year of investment in clean water, which is an increase of over 70 percent from fiscal year 2017 levels.

The report, which is released every three years, noted that for every square mile of the lake, 18 square miles of land in the entire basin delivers water and contributes sediment, nutrients, and other potential pollutants to the lake.

“Most nutrients come from sources on the land, so the relatively high land-to-lake ratio for Lake Champlain poses a significant challenge in limiting nutrient pollution,” the report said.

Shallow bays, such as Missisquoi and St. Albans bays, are more prone to problems related to phosphorus excess because there is less water to dilute incoming nutrients.

Overall, long-term phosphorus loading in most of the lake’s tributaries has not improved, the report said. Increased phosphorus runoff has been documented in the Lewis and Little Otter Creeks and in the Poultney River.

While the report said many efforts are underway to reduce phosphorus loading and ultimately the phosphorus concentrations in the lake, the results are not immediate.

“The interventions that we put on the landscape take a long time for us to see the effects,” program director Eric Howe said.

Program staff emphasized that the lake’s problems can’t be blamed on one group and public education and community involvement are critical to the lake’s health.

It’s not just farmers, it’s not just developers, it’s not just homeowners. It’s all of us,” said Jim Brangan, the program’s cultural heritage and recreation coordinator.

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