BURLINGTON, Vermont — The new Vermont Clean Water Act will bring tens of millions of dollars to bear on cleaning up Lake Champlain, but that's only the next phase in solving what has been a nearly intractable challenge that has been building for centuries, officials said Tuesday.
Gov. Peter Shumlin also on Tuesday signed into law the bill that is designed to clean up the lake by keeping pollutants from the rivers and streams that feed into it.
Speaking before dozens of supporters on the Burlington waterfront before he went to St. Albans for a similar ceremony, Shumlin said the new law was a collaborative effort.
The new law, prompted in part by late-summer algae blooms in shallow parts of the lake that have come to symbolize its declining fortunes, promises to provide tens of millions of dollars a year to help pay for cleanup projects. But it also carries penalties for people who refuse to comply.
"Our problem in my view will not be a lack of financial resources," Shumlin said. "Our problem will be once we have taken the actions that need to be taken, it still is going to take time to see results."
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the decades trying to keep pollutants out of the lake, toxic algae blooms have grown, fed by rain runoff, snowmelt and municipal wastewater treatment plants.
The Vermont Legislature passed the law, in part, to avoid the possibility the federal Environmental Protection Agency would impose a solution that many feel would have been more expensive and less effective.
"The Vermont Clean Water Act is a big deal, a big deal for all of the waters of the state," said state Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, the chairman of the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources.
In addition to Lake Champlain, the new law will also improve other waters in the state by reducing the amount of pollutants that reach the lake in water running off from farms, roads, roofs and parking lots.
In addition to state and federal funds, the law will make it possible to use grants and donations from private sources to help pay for projects.
"We cannot let Vermont's quality of life be compromised by our own collective behavior as it has been for too long," Shumlin said before signing the bill.