Letter to the editor: Dredging is good for lake
One month prior to the opening of the 2020 Vermont Legislative Session, the party in power presented to both representatives and the general public alike a few of the flagship issues soon to be taken up. This legislative briefing focused on a clean water update and what it will take to correct it, plus the Transportation and Climate Initiatives (Act 59, 2019). Many of the bills that died last year were scheduled to be reintroduced perhaps because we, the electorate, don’t really know what is best for us. One of these, the Carbon Tax, will rise once again as the phoenix, from the ashes of burnt fossil fuels. Without exception, all these bills equate to tax increases for us all.
The biggest polluter of our water system was specifically identified by the presenter to be precipitation; rain, snow and ice. Surprisingly, water was identified as the polluter. That is as misleading as saying that the carbon dioxide we exhale is a greenhouse gas toxin. Currently, Vermont farmers are mandated to collect rain runoff from barn roofs and treat it as a pollutant (Act 64, 2015). The goal is to decrease by 35% the Total Maximum Daily Load of phosphorus added to our waterways over the next two decades, bringing it down to approximately 165% of an estimated pre-historic level. Our state’s proposed remedy for lake purity is to decrease phosphorus in our lake to a level extrapolated to be what we think existed long before any burning of fossil fuels occurred, long before man tilled the soil, long before mankind set foot in this area, long before any anthropogenic activity occurred whatsoever. That is still a lot of phosphorus, but it is naturally occurring.
Graphs were presented by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) showing precipitation totals over the last 80 years with data points located all over the page, i.e., in all four quadrants. In the 2018 ANR budget report, the staff position summaries listed zero Ph.D. statisticians employed, but there are four staff attorneys on board. In my humble opinion, that should be reversed. The presenter admitted that the statistical data was “noisy.” The take home message was that precipitation was “increasing” and has increased over the same time frame that carbon emissions have increased. Today’s prevailing mantra says that this is not correlation, but rather it must be causation, and anthropogenic causation at that.
When this synopsis of our water quality was presented, a member of our Vermont legislature told me that we had to do something. I asked why, what will happen if we do nothing? No response; silence. Why do this if we can take a more direct and less expensive approach? This would be to dredge our lake in heavily silted areas, remove natural sediment and debris and maintain our navigational channels. The most stable form of phosphorus chemically is as phosphate, its most oxidized state. It is bound to divalent metal ions literally in the form of a rock. Lake floor dredging is routinely performed in our great lakes. And dredging was most recently performed in Lake Champlain less than two decades ago by Ellicott Dredges of Baltimore, Md., in 2001 near Plattsburgh, N.Y. Dredging would save all property owners money in the form of taxes. This is a step in the right direction towards keeping people from moving out of our state.
Last year I attended all the Addison County Legislative Breakfasts and without fail, the first question attendees would ask our legislators present was exactly what could be done to reduce our property taxes and make our state more affordable. These questions on affordability were usually not answered at all but were deflected with statements about bills to address pet projects claiming to make Vermont cleaner, safer, and greener. And all come with a price tag, further increasing our taxes. And as with our clean water Act 64, there is usually no scientifically verifiable criterion to measure success as the state pursues each of these costly endeavors. It is argued that we can’t just stand here, that we are all stewards of our land. So, we share a responsibility with our community to do something, anything at all, even if not very well thought out. We all admittedly feel a lot better for having tried. And when you feel guilty, the price tag is immaterial.
We all are indirectly guilty of polluting our nation’s sixth largest freshwater lake by being passive and not collecting enough of the phosphorus in our rain waters, present as fertilizer and natural organic debris from our farms and forests, prior to being washed naturally into our lake. The Vermont populace has been convinced, and quite compellingly, that we are in dire straits and must act or all is lost. We have been convinced that we have only 10 years to prevent the existential threat of Climate Change. This water cleanup proposal happens to be a 20-year project. Again, we’ve got to do something. After all, we can’t just stand here.
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