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.
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.
In order to hear input, the Agency of Agriculture, and 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. No programs have been pre-determined. The purpose of these meetings was to receive ideas and input from the agricultural community and stakeholders.
In addition to the focus group meetings, 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 in late 2012. Minutes from the agricultural working group meetings are available in the project documents section. The agricultural working group is developing a series of recommendations of near and longer term steps that could be undertaken within the agricultural community to reduce phosphorus pollution.
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. For more information about CBI, click here.
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. For more information about the EMC, click here.