Requiring Best Management Practices on Farms

Farms in the Missisquoi Basin may soon need to take additional steps to reduce their impact on water quality.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture held a hearing on November 12 in St. Albans on a proposal that would require best management practices (BMPs) on farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. BMPs are actions that go beyond the Required Agricultural Practices that are currently in draft form (see earlier article).

The proposal is a result of a settlement agreement between the Agency and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). CLF petitioned the Agency in 2014 to force the use of BMPs, a petition LCC supported, but the Agency initially refused, and CLF appealed that refusal to Vermont Superior Court.

The revised proposal would have many benefits for water quality and agriculture, and is a necessary step toward protecting the state’s water quality. The decision would lead to farm by farm assessments and action plans which provide the best opportunity for addressing water quality issues. The assessments will provide every farm with the knowledge and tools to reduce individual impacts on water quality, and lead to actionable plans to address any issues identified.

If the Agency implements the measures in the draft decision, CLF has agreed to forego filing or assisting any third party in preparing or filing a petition on agricultural BMPs, and to tell the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the measures constitute reasonable assurance that agricultural load allocations can be met. The TMDL load allocation requires reductions of 82.8% from agricultural lands in the Missisquoi Basin. Thus CLF’s conclusion that there is reasonable assurance those reductions will be met represents a major concession by CLF and the Agency and the farming community should take advantage of it to implement a plan that is in the best interest of all Vermonters. The decision allows the Agency to focus resources on site by site needs rather than continued litigation.

LCC has asked the Agency to go further and implement the strategy proposed in the decision to other watersheds in the Lake Champlain Basin including St. Albans Bay, Otter Creek, and the South Lake.  While the problems in Missisquoi Bay are particularly acute, these other areas also face incredible challenges in dealing with phosphorus loading from agricultural areas.