State officials say a new proposal will allow for chemical treatment to control the lamprey population to resume without harming drinking water.
Flanked by members of his administration and key water quality proponents, Gov. Peter Shumlin unveiled a plan Wednesday to temporarily install a rented filtration system near a tributary that is a major source of lamprey.
The filtration system will allow the state to proceed with chemical treatments of the LaPlatte River, which has become a hotbed for lampreys. The river empties into Shelburne Bay, near where the Champlain Water District draws water to serve the Burlington area.
Efforts to control the lamprey population using the chemical 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol, or TFM, were put on hold earlier this year when the Vermont Department of Health lowered the recommended concentration level for drinking water.
Amid concerns about the lack of science around the impact of the chemical, the state toxicologist advised limiting concentration levels to three parts per billion, down from the Environmental Protection Agency's 2010 recommendation of 35 parts per billion.
"The good news is that we have figured out a filtration system which we will put in on a temporary basis when we treat to ensure we can treat the LaPlatte River and keep water safe," Shumlin said at the press conference in Montpelier.
According to Shumlin, the water only needs to be treated during the period when the chemical treatment is active. The state may look into purchasing a filtration system eventually instead of renting it.
"The point is we've got to do two things at once. We've got to keep water clean in Vermont," Shumlin said, noting national heightened concerns over drinking water safety. "And we've got to keep knocking out the lamprey or they'll keep knocking out the good fish."
Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter said that the lamprey control program, which is a collaboration of the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, has been "a tremendous success."
Through the treatment, samples have found that there has been a marked decrease in the number of wounds caused by lampreys to trout and salmon. Sturgeon populations have also recovered, according to Porter.
When the Department of Health initially lowered the TFM concentration, Porter said he was dubious whether lamprey control treatments could proceed this year.
"To be honest with you, I didn't think we were going to get there. It was a big lift and it was tremendous cooperative effort," he said.
Porter anticipates that the treatment in the LaPlatte River will take place in October. r