State of the Lake

Children play on a stony beach.
Photo by Lynn Monty

All 22 of the drinking water systems on Lake Champlain began sampling this week as part of a new program to monitor public drinking water supplies for blue-green algae toxins, a Vermont Department of Health press release said.

This new 12-week monitoring program will monitor for blue-green algae blooms and protect the public from potential toxins in drinking water. Lake Champlain is the drinking water source for about 150,000 Vermonters.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program’s 2015 State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report was released last week just as Gov. Peter Shumlin declared July to be Lakes Appreciation Month.

Shumlin proclaimed that lakes and reservoirs are critical to Vermont’s environment and quality of life, providing sources of recreation, scenic beauty, and habitat for wildlife and that maintaining the health of our lakes, ponds, and reservoirs is the responsibility of every citizen.

“By signing this proclamation, I seek to recognize the tremendous and critical efforts of the many Vermont citizens, community leaders, volunteers, lake and watershed organizations to protect and restore the quality of our state’s many lakes and ponds,” Shumlin said in a press release.

In recent years, Vermont has established itself as a leader among states in the protection of water resources, passing a Shorelands Protection law in 2014 and the landmark 2015 Vermont Clean Water Act addressing polluted stormwater runoff, Shumlin’s press release said.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program’s report, produced about every three years, informs the public and resource managers about Lake Champlain’s condition and provides a better understanding of threats to its health and opportunities to meet the challenges ahead.

“We rely on the best scientific data available to determine the conditions of Lake Champlain water quality and habitat health,” said Bill Howland, LCBP Director. “In 2015, we share both good and not so good news, depending on which issue and which lake segment is being discussed. Certainly the Lake is still not meeting phosphorus concentrations targets, but some of the tributary rivers seem to be improving – and that is a very positive sign.”

The report indicated that some of the Lake Champlain embayments are generally meeting their phosphorus targets including Cumberland Bay, Burlington Bay, and Shelburne Bay.

While most days it is safe to swim in nearly all parts of Lake Champlain, beach closures sometimes occur in the lake, particularly in the northeast arm, usually due to coliform bacteria from surface water. Cyanobacteria blooms remain a concern especially in Missisquoi Bay, the report said.

Due to heavy rains prior to the Independence Day holiday weekend, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation reported water coming in faster than wastewater treatment facilities could treat it in Vergennes and Burlington. Tens of thousands of gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater overflowed into state waterways, the report said.

Poor development planning, obsolete infrastructure, inadequate regulatory oversight, and lack of municipal investment could be at fault, Lake Champlain International Executive Director James Ehlers said. “Pathogen exposure for unsuspecting Vermonters swimming and boating is the primary short-term impact,” he said of the overflows. “Long-term impacts include the accumulation of heavy metals and organic and inorganic compounds in the food chain. Some individual water samples from combined sewer overflows and treated wastewater could contain up to 35 different chemicals.”

Contact Lynn Monty at 985-3091 or Follow her on Twitter at


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