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New York DEC Commissioner announces water quality plan for Lake Champlain

The outgoing Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was at a park on the shore of Lake Champlain Monday to discuss the release of a final watershed plan and to announce investments that will help improve the water quality of the lake.

New York Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Basil Seggos traveled to the North Country Monday to make two announcements related to the water quality of Lake Champlain. Standing near the shore, Seggos called Lake Champlain one of the most pristine water bodies in North America. He said its water quality must be protected.

“Every water body has different stressors but for the most part it’s failing infrastructure that impacts our water quality and that leads to so many things,” Seggos said. “In the case of Lake Champlain, it’s excessive phosphorus obviously creating harmful algal blooms. Algal blooms can cause very dangerous conditions for pets, certainly for drinking water, for contact. Water clarity also. You know sometimes Lake Champlain and other waterways that are impacted by phosphorus can actually lose their clarity and that’s really important for the ecology of the water and for the fisheries. And then it’s excessive weeds growth. You know when we recognize there’s a problem in a resource this magnificent and this important, we have to tackle it with all the tools we have at our disposal.”

To that end, Commissioner Seggos announced that the DEC has released the Final Lake Champlain Watershed Implementation Plan.

“This is a very detailed document,” noted Seggos. “It actually gives an updated survey of all the land uses on this body of water, all the historic pressures on this body of water, the projects that we’ve put in place, certainly all of the investments we’ve made. It has catalogued that. But it’s designed to be forward looking. That’s why we get excited about planning documents because they can take note of what we’ve done in the past but then help guide our investments moving forward and create new forums for public education and for outreach and to help us coordinate with our partners in Vermont and Quebec. This is the path forward.”

Lake Champlain Basin Program New York Lake Champlain Coordinator Erin Vennie-Vollrath said the organization is excited to work with its partners and the DEC to improve water quality throughout the watershed.

“Science-based plans like this new watershed implementation plan are critical for insuring that the management decisions of the Lake Champlain watershed are informed by the best information available to address the increasing number of challenges to our waterways.”

Seggos says the Watershed Implementation Plan is the prelude for financial investment in the lake, and announced new clean water funding to localities.

“The Town of Peru is getting $1 million for its upgrades to the wastewater plant,” declared Seggos. “So congratulations Deputy Supervisor. And so this upgrade is going to go right into reducing phosphorus. I want to congratulate also the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District getting $150,000 for stormwater planning. And we are not done. We also have $435 million available right now for municipalities all across the state.”

The total cost to upgrades at Peru’s wastewater plant have been estimated to be a minimum of $11 million dollars. Water/Sewer Department Superintendent Courtney Tetrault says the new money from the state will be for a targeted use.

“That million dollars was specific to solids handling equipment in our treatment facility which right now is inadequate,” explained Tetrault. “We have a hard time finding parts and getting maintenance done on it. A lot of times we recycle the waste product because of the inefficiency of the press which recycles a lot of the bound up phosphorous that in that solids.”

The State Environmental Facilities Corporation has $325 million available statewide for water infrastructure grant funding and is taking applications until June 14th. Seggos is stepping down after nearly a decade this spring.