One of the most beautiful jewels in Vermont's natural crown is Lake Champlain. One of the most daunting challenges facing our state is cleaning it up. For a number of reasons, including soil erosion, development and agricultural run-off, Lake Champlain has high levels of phosphorus. Lake Champlain is not our only worry, however. Where the Connecticut River empties into the Long Island Sound there is a huge dead zone due, in part, to high levels of nitrogen. Of course there are other states that help to cause that problem, but we and New Hampshire surround the headwaters.

To give a little history, in 2002, Vermont adopted a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) clean-up plan, which set targets for the impaired watersheds. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, the "TMDL is a calculation of maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards." The plan was supposed to be renewed every five years, but in 2007, the Conservation Law Foundation went to court to force the EPA to overturn the TMDL plan because it felt the state was not implementing it properly. It took a couple of years to officially overturn the plan, which the FDA did in 2010.

Under federal law, after overturning a TMDL plan the EPA has 30 days to put in place their own plan, which they have not done. However, since 2010, the state has been working with the EPA to implement such a plan. The latest step is the FDA response and comments on the draft State of Vermont Proposal for a Clean Lake Champlain. On Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 10 a.m. in Room 11 at the Statehouse, the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources and House Agriculture and Forest Products Committees will hold a hearing regarding the FDA's response. We are very fortunate to have Rep. David Deen of Westminster working on these issues for us -- his knowledge and dedication are greatly appreciated.

H.586, an act relating to improving the quality of State waters, is intended to take a proactive step as we continue to work to clean up the lake. The House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee travelled to Bridport and St. Albans to hold public hearings and take testimony from Vermonters with their "boots on the ground." The comments we received were extremely helpful and, as I write this, a new version of the bill is being drafted.

Some people are very discouraged because we have been focused on this problem and have spent many millions of dollars over the last several years with no apparent improvement in Lake Champlain. In my opinion, there is no quick fix -- it took decades to pollute the lake, it will take decades times two, three, or more to clean, but it's not impossible and we need to continue our work to stop the on-going phosphorus loading.

This brings to mind a man I considered a friend, Pete Seeger, who, after I wrote him a letter asking, came to Brattleboro to do a benefit concert. His children and grandchildren came for a family reunion staying in our log cabin for several days. During that time, there was an occasion when Pete sat in my kitchen on my grandmother's stool keeping me company as I did dishes. I expressed frustration with how slowly change happened (at the time I was working for single payer health care) and asked him how he dealt with it. He told me that he visualized a see saw with a box of rocks on one end and on the other end a basket of sand. The end with the rocks was firmly planted on the ground but the basket of sand, which was leaking, had people doing good works, one by one, adding spoonsful of sand. In his vision, slowly, the basket of sand gained weight and overcame the box of rocks.

Pete, along with others, financed the building of the Clearwater (www.clearwater.org), the Hudson River Sloop that currently does educational work on the Hudson River. Pete told me that he figured that if there was a beautiful boat sailing on the river people would start to pay attention and want to do something about the severe pollution. He was right and now there are lower reaches of the river that are swimmable again. What I learned from Pete? Proactive patience!

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed H.112, a bill that would require the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, on a 4-1 vote. The night before, the Senate Agriculture and Judiciary Committees jointly held a public hearing in the House Chamber attended by several hundred people, all asking for food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such. People expressed health, environmental, and economic concerns as they took their minute or two to testify. It now goes on to the Senate Judiciary Committee for review, probably after Town Meeting Day. The House passed the bill last year by a strong, 99-42 vote margin and we hope the Senate will be able to do the same.

Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, is chairwoman of the House Agriculture and Forest Committee.