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Center for Mediation and Dialogue
Restoring the Dialogue Between Farmers and Camp Owners at Lake Carmi
Lake Carmi, a once pristine lake in Northern Vermont that serves as the summer home to more than 300 property (camp) owners, is in the midst of an environmental crisis. An excess of phosphorous in the ecosystem has caused toxic blue-green algae blooms, compromising human health, property values, and impeding lakefront recreation. Much of the phosphorous causing these blooms can be traced back to run-off from local dairy farms. However, over the past ten years, farmers have made substantial changes to reduce their environmental impact. Although they've taken big steps, it has been difficult to measure the results, since ecosystem restoration can take decades given that Carmi is plagued by the release of "legacy" phosphorus that has accumulated over the years in the sediment at the bottom of Lake Carmi, regardless of the farmers' present efforts.
For their part, the camp owners are struggling to implement best-practices along their shorelines to slow and sink the run-off that comes from higher up. Patterns of use have changed over the years and what were once small camps occupied for a few weeks each summer have changed into more sophisticated summer homes that are often used year-round. This has given rise to questions of new impacts, not registered by the now ten year old TMDL report. For all residents of Carmi, change can't happen fast enough. They are fed up. But the lake is slow to respond and as a result, parties have mutual suspicions about the significance of the impacts one another has on the lake. This has led to tensions in the community.
However, the tensions have also had a few constructive outcomes. A new aerator has been installed in the lake and promises to reduce the periods of anoxia that are mostly likely to lead to the toxic blooms. New farm equipment has been purchased by the UVM extension service and deployed in the area, most notably a manure injector that reduces the need to broadcast manuer in the area. All parties need will need to work together in order to clean up the lake, but tension is running high and impeding the effort. The Lake Carmi Watershed Committee secured a small grant from the High Meadows Foundation to partner with the The Center for Mediation and Dialogue to initiate conversations with the parties to gauge their interest in shifting the adversarial tone of the conversation to more collaborative approaches.
CAMP OWNERS: They are angry about the algae blooms, and want regulators to take stronger action against farmers in the area. Many would like to see further measures taken by the area farms and more stringent regulation by state agencies.
FARMERS: They recognize they have a big role to play in cleaning up the lake, and are working hard to reduce run-off from their farms. They often feel their investments and efforts are not being acknowledged. Their sense is that the the data driving the conversation is outdated, and does not reflect the progress they've made. They also don't feel that it reflects the changes in camp usage and potential loading from septic systems around the lake.
REGULATORS: Camp owners are angry with them, because they feel they should be doing more to restrict farming in the watershed. Farmers are frustrated with them, because they feel they've already made major changes and are constantly being asked to do more. They are struggling to determine how to best proceed Regulators are struggling to find ways to be more effective at communicating relevant data to the interested parties.
The Dialogue Process
The Champlain College Center for Mediation and Dialogue is working to restore common purpose to the parties involved and to reopen productive dialogue between farmers and campers. Whereas previous meetings had been characterized by mistrust and mutual accusations, through its partnership with the Watershed Committee, The Center is exploring ways in which farmers and campers can reestablish a sense of safety and trust. The Center hopes to successfully shift the conversation into a proactive, solutions-oriented mode.
The process is at its very initial stages and on-going. The Center continues to provide support to help farmers, campers, and government officials communicate productively and respectfully. They are making strong progress. The group is working to implement several new strategies for restoring the lake, including installing a new aeration system to complement the ongoing water quality work on farms, roads, and camp properties surrounding the lake.