Lake Champlain ice cover data included in ‘state of the lake’ report

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 10:27 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A new report charts the progress in cleaning up Lake Champlain, but stubborn pollution problems remain and there are potential new concerns on the horizon.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program on Wednesday presented the “State of the Lake” report to the public. The report is released every three years with input from New York, Québec, and Vermont scientists. Overall, the report says Lake Champlain has good water quality and meets the Clean Water Act’s goals of having a drinkable, fishable, and swimmable lake. “This recent SOTL report confirms our work towards restoration of Lake Champlain is having a positive impact across the basin,” said the EPA’s Deborah Szaro.

In fact, lake trout reproduction has increased, requiring the amount of lake trout stocked in the lake to be reduced by 33%.

There are still concerns, including the impact of climate change. The basin program is now beginning to track the reduction of lake ice in the winter and how that might impact the lake’s ecosystems. Milder winters and hotter summers in recent decades have resulted in less frequent freeze-overs. While the surface froze over nearly every year in the early 1900s, it is now freezing about once every four years, and modeling suggests that by 2050, it may freeze fully just once per decade. “The lake will warm up more quickly, the growing season in the lake will start earlier, so plants will start growing, fish may start spawning earlier. And on the flip side, the algae blooms, the cyanobacteria blooms, could also start getting going earlier as well,” said Eric Howe with the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Pushed by high phosphorus levels, cyanobacteria blooms also have been on the rise in recent years, closing beaches in the warmer months. The report says phosphorus remains poor to fair in the five main sections of the lake, but that efforts to reduce agricultural runoff are beginning to have an impact. “We’re seeing improvements to some extent in turning the curve in the amount of phosphorus, but other tributaries are still a problem,” Howe said.

Invasive species remain a threat, but the report notes progress, with 60% of the boating community now taking steps to reduce invasive species from spreading via their boats. Lake advocates say improving the environmental health of the lake can’t happen without people who live and use it taking part in the solutions. “There’s also a trend towards more involvement and that’s another positive step and it’s going to be absolutely essential in protecting and restoring this vital resource,” said Lori Fisher with the Lake Champlain Committee.

Along the Burlington waterfront, it’s not hard to find people who are aware of the precious but fragile resource. “The ecosystem is precious and we need to maintain the environment so the generations to come can enjoy the fruits of this earth,” said Jameson Hunt of Burlington.

“My wife and I have been married for 33 years and it’s been a part of our lives since we met and beyond. It’s one of those places we just can’t get away from,” said Dave Bentley of Wallingford.

“This is all we have and if people don’t take care of our precious resource we are in trouble. This is a gift,” said Diane Bacon of South Burlington.

How can you help protect the lake? Lake Champlain Basin Program officials say small steps like eliminating de-icing salt, making rain barrels, and raising your mower blades, can help reduce storm runoff that carries pollutants into the lake.

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