HIGHGATE — The mood was upbeat at this year’s annual Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC) dinner, despite the absence of Gov. Phil Scott.

The crowd at the Tyler Place Family Resort heard about the ongoing efforts to reduce runoff into Lake Champlain and Lake Carmi from Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts, Secretary of Natural Resources Julie Moore and Laura DiPietro, the head of the agriculture agency’s water quality division.

While driving to Highgate, DiPietro said she examined the fields she drove past. “Five years ago when I took this trip, it didn’t look like this,” she said.

This time, there was evidence of cover crops, buffers and other practices intended to reduce runoff and improve water quality.

“Everyone in this country is really facing a challenge with water quality,” said DiPietro. Nutrient runoff has impacted waters from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. What’s different in Vermont is the engagement and commitment of the farm community, said DiPietro. “They’re all in.”

DiPietro acknowledged that while most farmers have committed to improving water quality, “there are a few bad eggs, and that’s our job.”

The key to reducing runoff and improving water quality will be cooperation, not regulation, in DiPietro’s view. “You can regulate to the end, but they own that land,” she said.

As the Agency’s regulatory responsibilities have grown, DiPietro described how regulators have turned to partners such as FNLC and the UVM Extension Service to aid farmers with implementation. It’s “important to have someone you can confide in, talk with and trust,” said DiPietro.

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