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Blue-green algae, untreated runoff conspire to close Burlington beaches

Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 9:28 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 9:59 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Wednesday was a beautiful day to go to the beach day, unless you were in Burlington. Several beaches there will remain closed due to a combination of blue-green algae and a malfunction at the waterplant that sent untreated storm runoff into area waters.

Jackie Majoros and Peggy Ellis-Green watched from North Beach Wednesday as city staff posted cyanobacteria warnings minutes after they gt out of the water. "Beach closed. Oh my god!" Majoros said. "I wish they had put the sign up a little earlier."

The friends swim together at the beach at least once a weeka and say the constant closures have made them increasingly uncomfortable. "This summer's definitely been worse, I think. Much more on and off," Ellis-Green said.

"It is disappointing that you can't really count on being able to come down to the lake every day," Majoros added.

"Looking back, this is the most we've had in a while," said Alec Kaeding with Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront. The beach manager says it's the most cyanobacteria blooms he's seen in a single season since he started the job seven years ago.

"Low lake levels, high heat, no breeze -- it's all just the perfect storm," Kaeding said. "It's great weather for us, but it's better weather for cyanobacteria."

And that’s not the only problem at Burlington’s biggest beach. Tuesday night’s storm uprooted trees and dumped debris.

"We had no idea that the damage was this bad," said Janice Zito from New York. "We've been coming for years, like eight years. No, I've never seen anything like this before."

The storm also overwhelmed the city’s sewage system, sending combined stormwater, and wastewater, 1/2 mile into Lake Champlain. Beaches within 1 mile must be posted, which includes Oakledge Cove, Blanchard Beach, Blodgett Access and Perkins Pier. Per state law, those swimming spots are closed until at least Friday. E-coli levels may increase in the Lake after Tuesday nights discharge.

Like other frequent Burlington beach-goers, Zito and her son Jace are growing frustrated by Lake Champlain's persistent problems. "It seems that every couple of days it goes from opening to closing," Zito said.

And they agree the Queen City needs to come up with a solid solution. “Taking a closer look at what’s emptying into the lake and how you can control what comes into the lake. You can’t do anything about the heat, the lake level, but certainly what comes into the lake and how it’s treated,” Majoros said.

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