Lake Champlain Phosphorous Pollution Initiative


Photo by: Carolyn Bates

Phosphorous loading from a variety of sources is harming the health of Lake Champlain. Numerous studies have documented that phosphorus comes from wastewater treatment plants and non-point sources such as runoff from municipal streets and parking lots, eroding streambanks, and 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. To improve this important resource, we must all take further action now. The question is: who and what?   The EMC and the Consensus Building Institute (CBI) are working with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on a project designed to seek input and build consensus among water quality stakeholders on ways to reduce phosphorous pollution and maintain a viable and sustainable agricultural sector that provides additional benefits to the Vermont landscape. While farmers have already taken many actions to reduce phosphorous pollution, all sectors that generate phosphorous pollution will need to continue to work towards meeting water quality standards.   EMC and CBI are independent, non-partisan facilitation and mediation organizations with no substantive stake nor position on the issues.  Rather, our role is to help a range of sectors and parties explore concerns, issues, and opportunities in a constructive and collaborative fashion.  Funding for EMC’s and CBI’s efforts comes from the NRCS, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters,the U.S. EPA via the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center’s national contract, and the High Meadows Fund.


Goals of the Stakeholder Process

  • Provide information on the phosphorous pollution issues;
  • Review the effectiveness of existing programs;
  • Identify new and innovative regulatory and voluntary approaches;
  • Consider challenges, barriers and opportunities to such approaches;
  • Generate, evaluate, and prioritize options.

Input from the Agricultural Community and other Water Quality Stakeholders 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.  DEC is currently working with the Agency of Agriculture and many others on a new TMDL and would like to learn from farmers what actions they think have been most effective, where additional changes and improvements can be made, and what are the challenges, if any, to adapting those actions.   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. Baseline requirements will be developed that may be current programs with additional resources or guidance, or may be new ideas developed with the help of the agricultural community.   In addition, one possible voluntary program that will be discussed is called a “Certainty” program.  Through this program, 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. Participants in the Certainty program may receive priority for financial and/or technical assistance to help them undertake the actions.


Focus Group Meetings In order to hear input, 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 pollutionNo programs were pre-determined.  The purpose of these meetings was to receive ideas and input from the agricultural community and stakeholders. 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 an Agricultural Working Group that includes farmers and others in the agricultural community to further develop and refine the ideas that were generated in the focus group meetings and submitted through the website. The Agricultural Working Group is developing a series of recommendations that could be undertaken within the agricultural community in the near future to reduce phosphorus pollution. Minutes from the agricultural working group meetings and interim recommendations as of May 2013 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 work on innovative long-term ideas to reduce phosphorus pollution from the agricultural sector. The Agricultural Innovations Group is comprised of farmers, environmentalists, and agricultural service providers. The Agricultural Innovations Group will make recommendations and develop programs to make agriculture in Vermont environmentally and economically sustainable. Meeting notes from the Agricultural Innovations group are available in the project documents section.  


Cover cropping reduces soil erosion and retains nutrients on the field for future crop production


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.  

Algae Bloom