Press-Republican

August 2, 2012

State of the Lake reports improvements

By JEFF MEYERS, Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — GRAND ISLE, Vt. — Efforts to manage the quality of Lake Champlain are going well, but the lake continues to face many challenges in light of global climate change and other factors.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program released an updated version of its State of the Lake report Wednesday with dignitaries praising the collaborative effort in producing the study while cautioning that the job is far from completed.

“This is our best effort (to produce) a complete description of the current state of the lake, our best effort to summarize those points,” said Bill Howland, program manager for the Basin Program.

“The biggest question we hear is, ‘Is the lake getting better or worse?’” he added. “That is a hard question to answer. This (report) is our best effort to answer the question.”

The report was released during a meeting at Gorden Center House on Grand Isle in Vermont, just north of the Grand Isle Ferry Dock.

SCORECARD

The Basin Program utilized technical reports and statistics from dozens of scientists, researchers and government agencies from both sides of the lake and Canada, Howland noted.

The report looks at how human activities exert pressure on the lake, how the ecosystem is impacted by that pressure and what management responses are used to reduce negative impacts on the lake.

It also uses a color-coded scorecard to identify strengths and challenges throughout the five distinct regions of Lake Champlain.

“Each lake segment has its own story to tell,” Howland said. “Most of Lake Champlain is in very good overall condition.”

PHOSPHORUS

The section identified as the “main lake” contains 81 percent of the lake’s water, and although phosphorus levels there are above acceptable goals, other environmental indicators for that section continue to hold their own.

Mississquoi Bay, located in the northeast corner of the lake and split by the Vermont/Canada border, is an area of special interest because it is a shallow, warm body of water and receives a lot of agricultural runoff, which is a prime contributor of phosphorus, a nutrient that promotes algae and other plant growth in the lake.

Daniel Leblanc, minister of development for the Quebec Department of Parks and the Environment, described Quebec’s efforts to reduce agricultural runoff and noted the positive results in decreased phosphorus levels in the Pike River, a historically high phosphorus contributor to the basin.

Stephen Perkins of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 1 praised the cooperative effort from all participants in creating a thorough 2012 document.

“Some areas continue to hold the line on phosphorus, and some areas continue to need work,” he said. “The EPA is in it (to support local and regional efforts) for the long run.”

A TEAM EFFORT

David Mears, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders were making a big difference in the lake’s overall success.

Deb Markowitz, secretary for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, also cited a team effort in creating the report and praised the Basin Program for bringing important information to the community in language the public can understand.

“Seeing the number of people in this historic building is truly a sign of how important Lake Champlain is to all of us,” she said of Wednesday’s meeting. “Our goal is to actually get things done for the lake. Unless we can get information out to the public, we’re not going to be moving forward.

She also praised the support received from executive leaders in both states and Quebec, where changes in leadership have not lessened the emphasis of managing the lake properly.

The 40-page report focuses on water quality, fish and wildlife, invasive species and human health. It also has a section on the 2011 flooding and impact from Tropical Storm Irene, including information on how those events had unique impacts on the lake.

Email Jeff Meyers:

jmeyers@pressrepublican.com