Gov. Peter Shumlin unveiled the state's 20-year plan to clean up Lake Champlain on Thursday.
In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Shumlin outlined an initial plan to reduce phosphorus loading into the lake through several management strategies targeting agricultural practices, river channel stability, transportation infrastructure and development.
The letter cites Lake Champlain as "the source of vital economic, recreational, and cultural opportunities" in the state. But phosphorus loading from the lake's watershed has caused toxic summer algae blooms considered harmful to human health, aquatic habitat and the state's tourism and recreational economy.
"We share the nation's interest in returning this treasured water body to full health," Shumlin said in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Several administration officials involved in the cleanup for the first time hosted a joint news conference in the governor's conference room to announce the commitment to clean up the lake.
Though Shumlin was not able to attend the news conference, environmental groups critical of the state's commitment were supportive of the state's latest step.
Chris Kilian, vice president and director of environmental advocacy for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the letter is an indication that "Lake Champlain is an emerging priority" for the governor.
The EPA is requiring the state to cut phosphorus loading into Lake Champlain by about a third under the Clean Water Act. The EPA will now weigh the state's proposal before it decides whether to approve the plan or issue its own enforcement action, which could include tightening restrictions on wastewater treatment facilities.
The state's plan does not include a plan to pay for lake cleanup or the amount of public dollars the state is committing to the task. Instead, the administration will come to the Legislature next year with a range of options to pay for the cleanup.
"Lake Champlain will require an all-hands-on-deck effort involving adjoining state and international partners, the EPA and other federal agencies, municipalities, developers, private philanthropic groups, and all of the citizens of Vermont," Shumlin said in his letter.
The state's plan includes new standards for agricultural practices to keep phosphorus on fields, new state and municipal road permits designed to better channel runoff, additional standards to control runoff from developed areas and ways to restore natural river channels to prevent stream bank erosion.