Vermont’s approach to farm pollution seen as a national model

From Vermont’s Lake Champlain to rivers in California, waterways are being overloaded with nutrient pollution running off farms. But Vermont took an approach to cleaning up its waterways that could well serve as a model for other states, especially now that the federal government is in regulatory retreat in the Trump era, writes Paul Greenberg in FERN’s latest story with EatingWell magazine.

The story, titled “Troubled Waters” in the magazine, tells how Lake Champlain suffered from years of neglect as farms and other sources leached pollution into the popular body of water. The lake, which borders New York, Canada and Vermont, also supplies drinking water to 145,000 people. “This persistent ooze of waste has been steadily rising over the last century, changing the lake’s ecology and stimulating the growth of blue-green algae, which can prove fatal to dogs and toxic to humans. Beach closures have become an annual summer event,” Greenberg writes.

Lake Champlain’s ills are also representative of a much bigger problem. “The EPA rates nearly half of all American rivers and streams as ‘poor,’ with 46 percent of water bodies overloaded with phosphorus and 41 percent with nitrogen, much of which flows off farms in the form of fertilizers, manure and soil,” the story says.

Vermont decided to address the problem, coming up with new requirements for farms to reduce run-off from their farms. “The resulting water-­protection rules have been exemplary. If the Trump administration succeeds at rolling back federal water regulations, Vermont and Lake Champlain may well serve as an example for other states that want to clean up their local waters while keeping farmers solvent.”

Farms are now implementing measures to protect waterways across the state, but it will take time for the evidence to show up in Lake Champlain – where progress is measured in decades rather than years.

“Will the rest of the country, facing similar water-quality crises, follow suit?” Greenberg asks. “In these tumultuous times, with environmental regulations under siege from the White House, the paths that individual states and the federal government take on water quality may diverge. Vermont, as its most famous poet, Robert Frost, once wrote, is taking the road ‘less traveled by.’ Whether other states head down that road, too, will determine how clean our nation’s water will be in the future.”