Lake Champlain Phosphorous Pollution Initiative

Phosphorous loading from a variety of sources is harming the health of Lake Champlain. Numerous studies documented that a significant part of the phosphorus comes from non-point sources such as runoff from agricultural lands and uses. Work has been done through incentive programs and voluntary project implementation to make a difference, but the lake’s water quality remains impaired.

Due to the high phosphorous levels in Lake Champlain, federal law requires the development of a phosphorous reduction plan known as a “TMDL.” This action is a requirement of the Clean Water Act, and is being directed by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is currently working with the Agency of Agriculture and many others on a new TMDL. The TMDL program requires an implementation plan that will have specific actions and goals required, along with consequences if those goals are not met over a period of time.

The Phosphorous Pollution Initiative focused on developing recommendations for reducing phosphorus pollution entering Lake Champlain from the agricultural sector while maintaining a vibrant agricultural economy. The reports below provided important information to the state and federal agencies on the agricultural community’s existing practices, their effectiveness, economic impact, and identified shortfalls that needed to be addressed to create a more robust response to water quality issues.

The work was undertaken in cooperation with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the DEC, with funding provided by NRCS, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the U.S. EPA via the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center’s national contract, and the High Meadows Fund.

The Agricultural Working Group (AWG)

Was comprised of twenty-four (24) members from a diversity of farm sizes and types and agricultural service providers met a total of seven times.  Their final report contains concrete short and medium term recommendations that support regulations to address reducing phosphorus pollution in the lake. Their final report was issued in December, 2013, and submitted to the Vermont Legislature.

The recommendations include:

  1. increasing resources for the Agency of Agriculture for education, technical assistance and enforcement on water quality issues,
  2. requiring all farms subject to the Accepted Agricultural Practices regulations to certify that they are in compliance,
  3. creating more robust mandatory regulations with options for flexibility through “smart” tailored plans that increase water quality protections,
  4. developing a “Certainty Program” where farmers who voluntarily undertake additional measures to reduce phosphorous pollution would receive certainty or an assurance that they are protected from future additional requirements for a fixed amount of time.

Many of these recommendations were adopted by DEC and submitted to the EPA as part of the TMDL Implementation Plan.

The Agricultural Innovations Group (AgInG)

Consisted of members of Vermont’s agricultural and environmental community was formed to support cross sector dialogue. The AgInG first extended their support for the AWG’s practical short-term recommendations.

The AgInG focused on innovative and feasible projects that would begin to address the long-term water quality issues facing Vermont.  The group recognized that no single one-stop solution was capable of making the kind of significant changes to water quality they believe are needed either because the technology even if implemented would leave a critical area unaddressed or because it would be cost prohibitive for members of the agricultural community to implement alone.

With innovation as the key to exploration, the group vetted emerging technology primarily in the alternative energy and biotechnology fields that has the potential to do the following: Assist farmers to retain and more efficiently use the existing phosphorus generated by the agricultural sector and applied to their fields; Couple cross-sector actions to create a primary economic community benefit such as sustainable energy with a secondary benefit such as compost, animal bedding, phosphorous cake or bioplastics that absorb and repurpose excess nutrients, including phosphorous, to improve water quality in those communities; Address legacy phosphorous in the Lake streambeds and soil; and Each of the vetted technological applications needed to be proven by being in use in pilot or actual projects already, whether in the United States or elsewhere.

The AgInG’s recommendations include:

  1. increasing the use of secondary treatment in digesters to capture the phosphorus;
  2. developing a community digester with integrated nutrient recovery for energy conversion;
  3. addressing legacy phosphorus through floating islands that reduce phosphorus at points of in-flow and in the Lake itself;
  4. developing a water quality certification program to incentivize best management practices; and
  5. adopting voluntary and mandatory low cost, easily implementable recommendations in the near future.

Project Outcomes Achieved By EMC And CBI

  • Provided information to key members of the agricultural sector on phosphorous pollution;
  • Reviewed the effectiveness of existing programs;
  • Considered challenges and opportunities to spur effective means to reduce pollution;
  • Generated concrete recommendations that evaluated and prioritized available options;
  • Utilized experts in various technological fields to explore creative solutions;
  • Created cross-sector collaboration and dialogue that demonstrated mutual goals;
  • Identify new and innovative ideas and approaches;
  • Generated recommendations for groundbreaking and inventive cross-sector approaches;

Focus Group Meetings

During the fall of 2012 the Agency of Agriculture, DEC, EMC, and CBI hosted a series of focus group meetings throughout Vermont with farmers and other water quality stakeholders to discuss possible incentive based and regulatory programs to address phosphorous pollution. Notes from these meetings and a summary of the major themes raised during these meetings are available in the project documents section.

Agricultural Working Group

In 2013 EMC and CBI formed the AWG which included farmers and others in the agricultural community to further develop and refine the ideas that were generated in the focus group meetings. The AWG’s Interim Report was issued in May, 2013 with a Final Report issued in December, 2013. The Report contains a series of recommendations that can be implemented within the agricultural community in the near future to reduce phosphorus pollution. The Reports and the minutes from the AWG are available in the project documents section.

Agricultural Innovations Group

In addition to the agricultural working group, EMC and CBI formed an Agricultural Innovations Group to explore cross-sector, innovative long-term ideas to reduce phosphorus pollution from the agricultural sector. The AgInG is comprised of farmers, environmentalists, and agricultural service providers. The group invited experts to explain emerging, currently used technology that, used alone or in conjunction with other projects, could provide both a community wide benefit as well as a way to address excess nutrient issues and water quality standards. Meeting notes and expert presentations are available in the project documents section.

About EMC and CBI CBI is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1993 by leading practitioners and theory builders in the fields of negotiation and dispute resolution. Our experts bring decades of experience brokering agreements and building collaboration in complex, high-stakes environments. We’re proud of our successes, and we share our approach with others through partnership, research, and teaching at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, MIT, and other leading institutions. The EMC is a non-profit organization that designs and administers environmental and agricultural dispute resolution programs. The EMC administers the United States Department of Agriculture’s certified mediation programs for Vermont, New Hampshire, and Hawaii. The EMC also designs and administers environmental dispute resolution programs utilizing mediation screening for governmental and regulatory permitting bodies.

Download The Reports

Agricultural Working Group

Meeting Minutes

Presentations to the AWG

Focus Group Meetings