Earlier this month, we asked readers to submit questions they would like answered by the candidates running for seats on the Vermont State Senate.
Fifteen candidates, 13 Democrats and two Republicans, are vying for six seats in the Chittenden District.
While the two Republicans will be assured a spot on their party's ticket for the general election in November, the primary on Aug. 11 will winnow the field of Democrats down to only six.
To help you decide which Democrats you'd like to see on the ballot in November, over the next few weeks, we're featuring the candidates' stances on three different issues. All answers were authored by the candidates themselves and were only edited to comply with Associated Press style formatting. (i) denotes the candidate is an incumbent.
This week, we asked:
What are your plans for protecting and ensuring the health of Lake Champlain?
Michael Sirotkin (i)
My initial three years in the senate were on the Senate Agriculture and Finance Committees, where we vetted many policy and funding ideas to clean up not only Lake Champlain, but all the waterways in our state.
We succeeded in finding $60 million per year for the next 20 years, much of it to address phosphorous run-off from farms. In so doing, we met total minimum daily load (TMDL) guidelines of the EPA and avoided more costly and less effective remediation measures.
We've made ambitious first steps to do this including the current Act 76 "work in progress." The legislature is drawing up legislation to comply with the federal government's requirements to have a clean water service provider in Chittenden County to oversee and fund the needed remediation projects to keep our lake clean.
I intend to refine these as we learn more about the process and results and to support its goals. This legislation also addresses the other rivers and basins that empty into Lake Champlain. We need to reach across the lake as well and make sure New York is fullfilling its federal requirements in a timely and comprehensive manner.
Vermont’s natural beauty is an asset and must be protected and fostered. Lake Champlain is one of the crown jewels of our environment.
As a State Representative, I voted yes to create a dedicated revenue source to fund lake cleanup and protection. These funds are now targeted to projects that limit agricultural and industrial runoff.
In 2019, I wrote a bill to create a “Be a Water Champ” vanity plate to focus public attention on this issue and raise funds to support water quality. Continued focus and commitment will be key if we are to meet our goals.
Cleaning Lake Champlain is a joint federal-state endeavour, and one which certainly involves our New York neighbor on the other side of the lake. Lake Champlain is our jewel, and it should be a point of pride in keeping it vibrant and clean.
I note State Auditor Doug Hoffer's report last year that essentially recommended concentrating funding on interventions which would be cost-effective in terms of producing the most positive effects for each dollar spent. In that regard, he recommended spending more on reducing agricultural phosphorus runoff and less on the waste water problem -- although ultimately both are important.
Cleaning up the lake is both a political problem and an engineering challenge. Engineering solutions rely on relevant and accurate data, combined with objective decision-making. Politics is a bit messier.
Philip Baruth (i)
There are two steps we need to take on Lake Champlain clean-up immediately: funding the Three-Acre Permit process (requiring retrofitting for properties with more than three acres of impervious surface) and funding the upgrade of wastewater treatment facilities. Neither of these have gotten done, and as a result the EPA is now threatening to take over management of our clean-up efforts.
In a word, the problem is and has been money – we will need to come up with a lot of it to make a serious dent in this problem. That will require that everyone in the state contribute – not just counties bordering the lake, as some in the Statehouse argue.
We currently dedicate the property transfer tax receipts to the problem, but we need a statewide commitment to a fair and equitable permanent funding source at the scale necessary to move forward rather than tread water.
We have not done enough to reduce the phosphorus loads going into Lake Champlain, and the EPA is about to issue Vermont a failing grade for failure to implement the lake clean up plan. This is unacceptable.
We need to implement and fund programs that are already in place to reduce runoff from properties with large amounts of impermeable surfaces, as well as fund programs to allow agricultural concerns to reduce phosphorus runoff into waterways. The plans are in place, but we have failed to act. It is time for action.
Christopher Pearson (i)
Cleaning up Lake Champlain is very important for our health, our economy and beyond. I was one of the leaders in 2019 that came up with the solution of paying for our clean water commitment by redirecting money already collected through the meals and rooms tax. This set us up with a sustainable funding source into the future.
For too long we have deferred the work of cleaning up Lake Champlain and other Vermont waters. We must commit to this precious resources for ourselves and our state's future.
The health of Lake Champlain and our waterways represent a vital resource to our communities, economy and ecosystems in Vermont.
This is an area where local, state and federal government need to be working in alignment to improve wastewater and stormwater infrastructure to prevent overflow, as well as helping to financially support proper mitigation infrastructure for working farms. This costs money, but is also about accountability and having agricultural and municipal stakeholders shoulder the burden equitably.
We need to think of water as a whole system, not just the lake cleanup, or the Connecticut River. Let's start by attaching phosphorus, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAs) and other additives.
There needs to be changes to plumbing standards to support overall water health, support for civil engineering projects like sea walls, septic systems, culverts and dams.
Ginny Lyons (i)
As a dedicated member of the Lake Champlain Advisory Committee, I have worked to bring comprehensive funding for the federal lake cleanup plan (TMDL). I will continue to evaluate the outcomes of the funded projects – agricultural, municipal, and other. Ongoing water testing for public health and the environment is important.
Chittenden County towns provide leadership in this cleanup. I will continue to listen to and work with municipalities on lake cleanup. To reduce the overwhelming effects that wastewater and stormwater infrastructure can have on local budgets it is important that the Lake be viewed as a shared recreational resource.
Act 76 (S.96), an act relating to the provision of water quality services provides a long-term funding for our water quality programs. This act designates six percent of revenues from the meals and rooms tax to the Clean Water Fund, and establishes four grant programs to fund water quality projects in the State. Considering our meals and rooms tax will be significantly affected by COVID-19, there will need to be a review of how this impacts the grant funding that has been established.
This is a priority, because clean water infrastructure incorporates climate change resilience in bridges, roads and riparian barriers.
I support additional state incentives and training programs to help Vermont farmers transition to more regenerative agricultural practices, which would significantly reduce run-off. Similarly, we need to continue to fund efforts to reduce surface run-off in our more developed areas. Additionally, I would work with New York and Quebec to ensure that they are doing everything they can to protect and ensure the health of Lake Champlain.
Additionally, we know that record-breaking temperatures over the past few years have exacerbated the blue-green algae blooms. We must act boldly and do everything we can in Vermont to reduce carbon emissions and slow down the effects of global warming.
I support the “Green Mountain New Deal” which would create thousands of good paying jobs for Vermonters to install new solar, and weatherize homes.
For many years, I’ve been dedicated to protecting Lake Champlain for our future generations. As a local elected leader in Burlington, I helped pass a $30 million infrastructure bond to protect Lake Champlain and local watersheds from contaminated stormwater and wastewater runoff.
For too long, Burlington has not done enough to invest in the necessary infrastructure to handle major weather events that result in the dumping of wastewater that is not fully treated into our lake. As a state senator, I would continue this commitment. With major weather events occurring more often because of climate change, we need to prioritize these sorts of protections.