UVM study says Lake Champlain cleanup could boost economy

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 8:12 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Experts say clean water isn’t just good for Lake Champlain, it’s good for the economy. The state has been working for years to clean up Lake Champlain. Now, a new study out of the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont says a clean lake will also benefit the economy.

“There is a whole range of environmental, economic, health, ecological benefits associated with cleaning up the lake,” said Jesse Gourevitch with the Gund Institute.

Gourevitch took the dive into the relationship between water quality and Vermont’s economy, specifically, in the Missisquoi Bay region.

“There are very real and tangible economic and health benefits from cleaning up phosphorus,” Gourevitch said.

According to the study published in the Journal of Environmental Management, the tangibles include increased property values and increased tourism. A healthy and useful lake means more people will be willing to dip their toes in. The study estimates by 2050, if phosphorus inputs are eliminated, the Missisquoi Region would see $28.5 million in local tourism and more than $11 million in property sales.

“There is a real need to take a long-term outlook when looking at these issues,” said Gourevitch.

In the last five years, the state has already invested $194 million in water quality investments and those numbers should stay consistent over a 20-year timeline, but Gourevitch says it’s important to think beyond.

“The longer time horizon that you take, the greater the benefit-cost ratio is,” Gourevitch said.

In other words, it’s an upfront investment, but the study suggests there is a tipping point in 2057, where based on current trends, the benefit outweighs the cost. And although it’s hard to look ahead 30 years, the concept is largely accepted.

“We believe in Vermont that the environment is our economy,” Vermont Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said.

“The investment that we are making on water quality has a significant return on that investment both for the economy, for drinking water benefits, for recreational benefits, as well as flood resiliency, so I do think that the work that we are doing has a substantial return on investment that helps to garner support a sustained investment in this work,” said Emily Bird with the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Kurrle says investment in water quality takes no second thought. Clean water is an easy sell for tourism and real estate.

“When we talk about Lake Champlain, people want to come, they want to be able to swim, they want to know its safe to swim there, so it should draw people to the region,” Kurrle said.

While the numbers and dates are subject to change, Gourevitch says deep-diving into data has its purpose.

“I think quantifying these benefits is really important for generating both public and political support for investments in reducing phosphorus,” said Gourevitch.

Much of the data they collected for their study is collected through using years of property values, as well as tourism data all to try to predict trends in the future based on the health of the lake. But it is also subject to change, more or less phosphorus getting into the lake or changes in spending can impact the timeline.

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