BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — As Vermont works to reduce algae-causing phosphorus runoff into Lake Champlain as mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nearly $2 million in federal funding will go toward a study to look at how farm efforts are working to improve water quality, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy announced Tuesday.
Officials estimate that about 38% of the phosphorus load in the lake comes from agricultural land.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, with collaboration from the University of Vermont Extension, will look at two watersheds: the Dead Creek and the headwaters of the Little Otter Creek, which are in farm-rich Addison County.
"Vermont farmers are innovative, they're creative, they're deeply committed to conservation," Leahy said at a press conference in Burlington.
The research will consist of enhancing the farm conservation practices in the Dead Creek watershed and comparing the results to the other watershed.
Leahy, Under Secretary of Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and other officials said the study will be long-range. The nearly $2 million covers three years.
Five years ago, the then-U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack committed $45 million to the lake cleanup. Funding was targeted to six smaller watersheds that were some of the most impaired in the state, said Vicki Drew, the NRCS state conservationist.
Since then there's been a dramatic increase in the amount of practices installed on Vermont farms in those watersheds to improve water quality, she said.
"The farmers are super engaged," she said.
Last year, 82% of the phosphorus reductions came from agriculture, said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. "Agriculture is leading the way, meeting the goals," he said.
Money for monitoring is hard to come by, said Vermont Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore.
"Understandably people always want it to go into direct project work. But having resources to actually look at the impact is a great thing and something we're always challenged to find enough of," she said.