ST. ALBANS — Town residents and representatives from a variety of environmental organizations gathered by the water’s edge Tuesday night to share stories of how the pollution and blue green algae in Lake Champlain have affected their summers.
Attendees also spoke about the proposed Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs), which were the subject of a public hearing earlier in the day.
Eric Wolinsky, who lives right off Hathaway point, told the 30 or so people gathered at St. Albans Bay Park why he is personally motivated to fight for a clean lake.
“My motivation started somewhat selfishly in that the water in front of my house got worse,” Wolinsky told the crowd. “But I’m motivated at this point by, if you look at the park, there are people playing, hanging around. Nobody’s swimming, but they could be.”
“By August, that’s all gone,” he said. “This park is deserted. And that resource, that fun, is being taken from people.”
Wolinsky continued, “So kids uptown who could ride their bicycle and go swimming in this great park, that’s being taken from them without compensation, without asking their permission and without them evening knowing about it. They’re sitting in their house watching TV instead of being down here playing.”
“My wife collects old postcards, pictures of the bay,” he said. “There were times this parking lot was full. Every day was Bay Day. That’s being taken from people without their permission. So that’s what keeps me going.”
Wolinsky’s testimony matched many others that were shared Tuesday night. Many in attendance said they wanted to preserve Lake Champlain for the generations to come.
Some expressed frustration over the seemingly lack of progress toward a healthier, cleaner lake over the past 10 or so years.
One year ago, Governor Peter Shumlin signed Act 64, the clean water bill on the bay dock. The bill’s purpose is to improve the state’s waterways by enforcing water quality regulations and providing funding to reduce the phosphorus pollution that causes toxic blue green algae to bloom.
John Eisenhart of Ferrisburgh said that Shumlin only signed the bill because the governor felt legal pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action.
Since June of 2015, state agencies such as the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and Agency of Natural Resources have begun adjusting their rules to fulfill the bill’s requirements.
To meet phosphorous reduction targets set by EPA in the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for St. Albans Bay, phosphorous from agricultural fields will have to be reduced by 34 percent, for Missisquoi Bay, the agricultural target is 82 percent.
The state must approve the new RAPs this year, and is accepting public comment on the RAPs until July 7.
Conservation Law Foundation, Lake Champlain International and the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club have written in response to this draft stating the practices are not adequate, a view that was reiterated at the vigil.
“They’re better than what we have today,” Mark Nelson, the chair of the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club, said, “but they’re still not adequate. They don’t have big enough buffer zones. They’re still going to allow cows to wander into streams. Things that are not going to fully solve the problem.”
The final draft of the RAPs allows cows access to rivers and ponds and the lake, which could lead to erosion and manure entering the waterways, according to Rebekah Weber, the Lake Champlain Lake Keeper for Conversation Law Foundation.
The RAPs also allow farmers to apply fertilizer, graze and harvest in the buffer zones. The buffers are intended to act as separators between streams and cornfields and pastureland. Weber said a buffer should actually be a buffer.
Nelson and Weber encouraged the residents in attendance to email the Agency of Agriculture at firstname.lastname@example.org with their concerns and to pass the message along to family members and friends.
They said it’s harder to amend rules once they’ve already been passed. The time for action is now, Nelson said.