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EPA chief says during Vermont visit cleanup of Lake Champlain is critical


BURLINGTON, Vermont — The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used Lake Champlain as a backdrop Friday to call for continued efforts to clean up the lake and other waterways across the U.S. that she said are critical to the future of the country.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the algae blooms that have hit a number of lakes this past summer, including Lake Champlain, show how the threat to clean water continues.

"We're trying to get peoples' attention back to the water issues, make people understand that we have continued challenges cropping up across the nation that are threats to drinking water supplies as well as the beautiful waters like this that are used for recreational purposes," McCarthy said after speaking to federal, state, and local officials, most of whom are involved in efforts to clean up the lake.

McCarthy said that while progress has been made, lakes and rivers across the country that provide drinking water to a third of the U.S. population are not sufficiently protected.

"We need to reinvest our thinking, our energy and our resources in protecting the improvements we've made to water, looking @ where those gaps are and challenges like the stormwater, which has become more important than ever with the changing climate," she said.

Though they have tried for decades, Vermont, New York and Quebec have been unable to stop late-summer algae blooms on Lake Champlain. The blooms, blamed on excess phosphorus coming from farms and other human activity, deplete oxygen in the water and eventually kill aquatic life and can jeopardize a drinking water system. Algae this summer released toxins in Lake Erie and caused a two-day shutdown of drinking water to about 400,000 people around Toledo, Ohio.

Vermont submitted a plan to the EPA last spring that would clean up Lake Champlain by changing farm and forestry practices, stabilizing river banks to prevent erosion and reduce runoff from roads and from housing and commercial developments.

McCarthy said her agency is working with the state to determine the best way to clean up the lake while also working together to pay for those efforts without hurting the state's economy.

She said the agency expects to release its response to the state's plan in the spring.

Also Friday, McCarthy announced a $60,000 to $70,000 grant to help the city of Burlington plan for ways to reduce the harmful effects of stormwater runoff from the city that ends up in the lake.

McCarthy spoke at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center.

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