February 27, 2012

Film series examines algae bloom in Lake Champlain


PLATTSBURGH — "Bloom," the saga, continues.

A little more than a year ago, Vermont filmmakers completed a short documentary on Lake Champlain's battle against growing blooms of blue-green algae caused by increased levels of phosphorus entering the lake.

"Bloom, The Plight of Lake Champlain," which won an Emmy, aired on public-television stations in New York and Vermont and fostered discussion focusing on what options were available to offset the growing problem.

Those same filmmakers have recently completed a series of follow-up episodes that look at the major contributors to increased phosphorus levels. The series airs on Mountain Lake Television, Channel 57 on Wednesday.

"The first episode was focused two-thirds on the problem and one-third on the solution (to phosphorus reduction)," said Jon Erickson, a professor and managing director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.

"For these next three episodes, we've flipped that ratio as we dig deeper into the three principal contributors: wastewater, agriculture and urban stormwater."


Phosphorus is a nutrient that is found naturally in the environment but can be enhanced by those three human factors and others.

When phosphorus levels increase, plant life benefits, including the potentially dangerous blue-green algae.

"The intent of the first film was to shed light on what phosphorus is and what it does," said Erickson, the series' executive director. "When we brought out the idea (for a film on the lake's algae bloom problems), we had visions for a longer series, but we had funds for only one film."


Funding eventually became available through the Lintilhac Foundation, and the production crew returned to the lake last spring to continue filming efforts.

"We knew the first one left you hanging, but our goal was always to continue the story," Erickson said. "The whole series is more in depth, both with the problems and the solutions."

Wednesday's airing will begin with the initial program, which takes a hard look at agriculture as a contributing factor to increased phosphorus levels.

The film's writer, director and producer Victor Guardagno, interviewed some 30 people over a six-day period to uncover the extent of phosphorus damage in Lake Champlain.


The three new episodes, each a half-hour in length, takes an extended look at those problems with a focus on what can be done to help reduce phosphorus levels and restore the lake's health.

Part 2, "Ecological Design," looks at wastewater-treatment plants, focusing on Vermont's continued efforts to establish sufficient phosphorus-control measures at facilities that release treated water into the lake.

Part 3, "The Agricultural Renaissance," addresses agriculture, aiming its sights on how combined efforts to restore an environmentally friendly food crop can help manage this critical resource.

Part 4, "A New Reverence for Water," examines urban runoff and how upgrades to storm systems can translate into positive results in reducing phosphorus. The episode needed some last-minute tweaking, however, following the extensive damage across Vermont caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

"Irene forced us to change the context," Erickson said. "We went from exclusively looking at urban runoff to our preparations for a major storm, especially considering changes in climate."

Filmmakers visited Mike Kline of the Vermont Department of Natural Resources, who provided that additional angle on the need to prepare for weather events like Tropical Storm Irene.


Academy Award winning actor Chris Cooper (Best Supporting Actor for "Adaptation") returns as narrator for the series.

"These films are made with a public audience in mind," Erickson said. "We hope that they will inspire continued efforts for cleanup of Lake Champlain.

"It's been a discussion shared by the science community, the management community and by some editorials, but we hope the film connects the dots and brings the public into the discussion."

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