Photo by Trip Kinney.
Photo by Jessica Rossi.
Photo by Lisa Liotta.
Photo by Carolyn Bates.
Photo by Carolyn Bates.
Photo by Carolyn Bates.

Latest Updates

The National Weather Service announced on Monday, February 16, 2015, that Lake Champlain is completely covered in ice. Remarkably, this is the second year in a row that the ice has extended over the entire lake surface (last year it closed February 12). 

Given the sub-zero temperatures we’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but in fact, it is a rarer occurrence than it once was. Records for ice cover on Lake Champlain date back to 1816. Through the 1800s and early 1900s, it was quite common for the lake to close. However, over the last two decades, it’s been completely covered in ice just eight times. Prior to last year the lake hadn’t frozen since 2007. The last time it froze over in consecutive years was the period 2003 to 2005. 

Ice cover on lakes is an important indicator of climate change. Although we’ve experienced incredibly cold temperatures these last two winters, the long term trends indicate New England winters are becoming warmer on average. Worldwide 2014 was the hottest in the modern recordRead...

Vermont Gas has halted work on a controversial proposal to supply natural gas to International Paper (IP) in Ticonderoga via a pipeline under Lake Champlain. IP had been poised to fund a significant portion of the pipeline expansion, but backed out following substantial construction cost overruns. During project review LCC expressed concern about the significant risk the pipeline posed to Lake Champlain and advocated for specific steps to mitigate them.

The project was part of a longer term plan to construct a natural gas pipeline from its current terminus in Colchester to Rutland. That full proposal was divided into three phases: phase one would deliver gas to Middlebury, phase two would connect to IP, and phase three would continue to Rutland. In addition to funding the majority of the phase two project, IP had agreed to pay $25 to $31 million towards completion of phase one; money which is no longer available to Vermont Gas. Phase three will also be delayed, though Vermont Gas has indicated they still plan to continue the pipeline to Rutland. Read...

It’s snow season. Diligent public works employees spend hours clearing snow and applying salt and sand to roads in order to make daily commutes safer. But eventually, when the snow melts, the sand and salt flows into that river and Lake Champlain. How does it affect water quality?

Road salt has been employed to melt ice on roads in the U.S. since at least the 1930s.  The Salt Institute reports use has climbed from 200,000 tons per year in 1940 to 10 to 20 million tons per year more recently.

The salt acts to lower the freezing point of the ice. As the salt dissolves in the film of water at the ice surface it prevents water molecules from rejoining with one another. If it is too cold however, the ice will form regardless of the salt. Typical road salt promotes ice melting down to about 15 0 F, but becomes less efficient at lower temperatures. Read...

The importance of agricultural tile drains as a contributor to water quality pollution is gaining more attention. In addition to its other provisions, the water quality bill recently passed by the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee indicates some concern about agricultural tile draining. The bill calls for the Accepted Agricultural Practices to include requirements for reducing nutrient loading from tile drains, and calls for a report on the impacts of tile drains on water quality and means to mitigate those impacts. They are wading into a confusing but very important topic. 

Tile drainage is a tool farmers use to drain water from their fields faster. They install perforated plastic pipes in trenches two to four feet below the surface. The pipes accumulate water and whisk it to a nearby outlet by a stream or wetland. Tiling allows farm fields to dry earlier in the spring and prevents excess water build up during wet periods.  Read...

The time to prepare for future floods is now. Communities that took steps to protect themselves in advance of Tropical Storm Irene were often able to avoid some of the devastation that confronted their neighbors. In the fourth installment from LCC’s Lessons from the Flood we look at how Warren created a park that relieved flood pressure downstream, how a homeowner in Middletown Springs managed to prevent their road from getting washed out, and how one man in Pawlet took the initiative to find funding for many projects that protected his community. Learn more about how advanced planning pays offRead...

The layer of ice now sitting atop Lake Champlain insulates the water from the atmosphere and alters some of the physical phenomena that are sometimes seen around the lake. On very cold days when the water is open, fog often develops over the lake as the warm water lifting from it condenses in the cold air above; that won’t occur with a layer of ice. Lake effect snow also won’t develop as winds whipping over the lake’s surface will not be picking up that extra water vapor.

Surprisingly, an ice layer can keep the lake warmer. Water freezes at 0°C but is most dense at 4°C. So when the lake reaches 4°C it continues to cool even if it hasn’t quite frozen. However, an ice layer over the top of the lake insulates it and the water beneath the ice remains above 0°C. While the water closest to the surface will be near 0°C, the deeper waters might be a few degrees warmer. Read...

On February 20 in Montpelier the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee recommended H. 35, the water quality bill by a vote of 7-2. The bill still needs approval from the Agriculture and Ways and Means Committees before heading to the House floor. Meanwhile a companion bill is wending its way through the Senate.

From the outset, LCC’s highest priority for this bill was to establish a stable funding source for water quality projects. The current edition of the bill accomplishes this goal by increasing fees on stormwater projects, raising the gas tax by $.02, increasing the sales tax on phosphorus fertilizer and raising the rooms and meals tax. LCC had advocated for an increase in the fertilizer tax and a per-parcel fee tied to impervious cover. While some of the revenue generating mechanisms proposed differ from those espoused by LCC we are pleased that our call for a stable funding stream was heard. The bill does call for a study on how a per-parcel fee could be implemented to be delivered by next January. Read...

Two more fiery train derailments this month highlight the vulnerability of people, wildlife and waterways from the dramatic increase of crude oil transport by rail. The latest debacle has added pressure to improve rail transportation of flammable liquids. On February 15, 29 cars from a one-hundred car Canadian National train left the tracks in remote Northern Ontario. At least seven cars caught fire according to the Toronto Globe and Mail. A day later near Mount Carbon, West Virginia, a CSX train with 109 cars derailed. Twelve to 15 cars left the tracks and at least seven burst into flames. The incident led to evacuations of two small towns and threatened the drinking water source for several communities.

Both of these derailments involved rail cars known as CPC-123s. While these cars are an improvement over older DOT-111s they are not immune to puncture and explosion. These cars have now failed at least four times during accidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has developed a suite of new rules for tanker truck construction, but it will be at least October before production of the new cars begins, and may take several years before they are in wide use.    Read...