Clean water worth the cost

Lake Carmi is more than three hours north of Bennington, about as far north as you can drive and still be in Vermont. So the plight of that body of water, which was closed to the public for several months last year because of toxic algae blooms thanks to manure and fertilizer runoff, might not immediately resonate here on the state's southern border.

But it should.

Clean water is more vital to Vermont's future than anything.

Without it, Vermont's not a livable place, or much of a tourist destination either. People and animals need clean water to drink, and fish and waterfowl need clean water in which to live. It ought to be a priority of state government.

Lately we're getting the impression that it's not the priority it should be.

A week ago, a malfunctioning valve at the Burlington wastewater treatment plant sent more than 7 million gallons of partially-treated wastewater into Lake Champlain. In the days that followed, plant operators found E. coli bacteria concentrations at four times the allowed level in discharge from the plant.

That's mostly a Burlington problem, but Lake Champlain is also a Montpelier problem. The state is under a federal EPA order to limit the amount of phosphorous draining into the lake from stormwater and agricultural run-off, such as fertilizer and manure, and it needs to find a way to pay for it.

On the environment, Gov. Phil Scott says the right things, and does some smart things as well, despite the campaign cash he received from the Koch brothers, whose outright hostility to environmental issues is well documented.

Establishing a state climate action commission and joining the multi-state coalition upholding the Paris climate accords showed some basic understanding on Scott's part that our environment is crucial to our way of life, and that environmental problems will not solve themselves.

But when it comes to action, we've heard declarations that any proposed solution for Lake Champlain can't increase taxes or fees.

We know Scott is capable of common sense, as evidenced by his laudable action on gun safety. We'd like to see the same common sense when it comes to protecting our water.

Truth be told, Montpelier has a long record of looking the other way on water quality violators well before Scott became governor.

From industrial scale dairy farms violating regulations to the former Chemfab factory in Bennington, where PFOA that should have been scrubbed out of emissions instead landed on homeowners' property and rendered their drinking wells useless, the state has been entirely too kind to polluters.

On Sunday, James Ehlers, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, stood in front of Lake Carmi and unveiled a 10-point plan for cleaning up the state's most polluted waterways.

He called for cleanups of Lake Champlain and Lake Carmi, investment in wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, restricting the use of toxic pesticides and insisting that polluters pay for pollution.

"There's been a lot of political rhetoric about farms, and about the importance of farms, but it's not just enough to talk about farms: We need to embrace small farms, the farms who have the ability to both feed us and protect the environment," he said, according to

Ehlers also threw his support behind a proposal by State Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, to impose a $2 per night room tax on hotel stays to help fund the cleanup of Lake Champlain.

Deen's plan would raise about $7.4 million per year, which would not fully fund the estimated $25 million needed to protect the state's waterways. But it's a start.

And $2 per night is a drop in the bucket when considering what most visitors spend per day in the Green Mountain State.

Here's what won't work: Doing nothing.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation website calls Lake Carmi "one of Vermont's jewels." Perhaps it's time the state treated it like one.


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