Scientists keep a close eye on health of Lake Champlain following flooding

Published: Jul. 31, 2023 at 6:14 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s been three weeks since devastating floods swept across Vermont. The state’s waterways filled with debris and spilled into Lake Champlain. Since then, scientists have been hard at work tracking the fallout. They tell me the amount of phosphorus going into the lake is a big concern and contaminants that could be a potential threat are on their radar.

Experts say Vermont rivers dumped four billion gallons of water per hour into Lake Champlain, raising the lake level by three feet. And according to the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, the amount of phosphorus that was released into Lake Champlain exceeds the amount from 2022, hampering the state’s climate goals.

“We have some phosphorus reduction targets. We have been chipping away at those and making some steady incremental progress against those targets. My fear is once we run the numbers, may prevent us from meeting or continuing progress on those targets,” said Oliver Pierson of the Vt. DEC.

Experts are also worried about the potential threat of contaminants that could be in the lake. And since state and local groups have no way of tracking the data as of right now, the Lake Champlain Basin Program is working on creating a contaminant monitoring program.

“Right now actually we are starting a program to go around the lake and around the tributaries to synoptically sample all of these areas to see what levels of contaminants might be. From this we are going to design a monitoring program to keep an eye on those types of contaminants into the future,” said Matthew Vaughan, the chief scientist of the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

The Lake Champlain Committee has been seeing building and automobile debris in the water, as well.

They’re warning residents to be careful when recreating but some debris like big trees can serve as a home for our fish populations that have been affected.

“There are estimates that we might have a similar impact to the fishery as we did in Tropical Storm Irene where some fish species populations were affected by about 50%,” said Lori Fisher of the Lake Champlain Committee.

Now, state and local groups are urging people to join a watershed organization when the cleanup of the rivers starts to pick up.