LCC Blue-Green Algae Monitoring Program
LCC initiated a blue-green algae monitoring program on Lake Champlain in 2004. We annually train and enlist citizen volunteers to observe and report on water conditions. Our award-winning program provides critical data on where and when blooms are happening. The information we gather is used by public health officials to assess whether the water is safe for swimming.
We’ve revamped the program this year to involve more people and cover more territory. Volunteer monitors commit to going out once per week from mid-June through Labor Day. Observations are submitted via an on-line form and used to update the Lake Champlain Blue Green Algae Tracking map. Repeatedly visiting the same site helps us know of not just the presence of blooms, but also their absence. LCC provides training in detecting blooms and distinguishing them from other floating phenomena. If you are interested in being a volunteer monitor or supporting this program, please contact us at (802) 658-1414 or lcc@. lakechamplaincommittee.org
For the latest updates on Lake Champlain algae conditions, visit the Vermont Department of Health website and the Lake Champlain Blue Green Algae Tracking map. To help people distinguish blue-green algae from other floating phenomena in the lake, the Lake Champlain Committee has prepared a pamphlet recognizing blue green algae in Lake Champlain (pdf).
Background on Blue-green Algae
Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) naturally occur in lakes and have existed on earth for millions of years. Under the right conditions they form large accumulations referred to as blooms. Some types produce toxins which release into the water when algae die and break down. Algae toxins can present a potential hazard to people and their pets. However, not all algae produce toxins, and even those species that can produce toxins do not do so in all instances. You cannot tell by looking at a bloom whether or not toxins are present. Specialized tests are required to tell whether a particular bloom actually contains toxins.
What do blue-green algae blooms look like?
As a bloom develops you may notice fuzzy green pinhead size balls in the water. The actual bloom often looks like thick pea soup. You may see patches of turquoise blue as cells break down and release their pigments.
What are the health concerns with blue-green algae?
Compounds produced by the algae can trigger skin irritations and gastro-intestinal illness. Toxins in aerosols may cause itching and irritation of eyes, nose, or throat. Some species produce toxins that affect the liver, while other species’ compounds affect the nervous system. Blue-green algae toxins are also suspected carcinogens. Children and dogs are most vulnerable for a number of reasons: they are less particular about what they eat or drink or where they swim; they are smaller; and they are more likely to ingest water. Dogs can receive a larger dose of toxins when they swim in a bloom then lick their fur. The deaths of two dogs during the summers of 1999 and 2000 were attributed to blue-green algae poisoning from Lake Champlain water.
Where are blooms most likely to occur on Lake Champlain?
Blue-green blooms tend to be more prevalent in warm, shallow waters such as Missisquoi Bay. Deep, cold water locations with fewer nutrients, such as the Main Lake are less likely to support blooms. However, with warmer water temperatures associated with climate change and extensive nutrient loading from the floods of 2011, blooms are appearing in a broader area of the lake. Blooms are likely to occur during extended periods of calm sunny days. Wind and waves may cause them to accumulate along shorelines or in protected areas. Shifts in wind direction can move a bloom from one location to another. Cool rainy weather may disrupt a bloom.
What should I do if I see a bloom?
- Report it to the Lake Champlain Committee (LCC) using our online form
- Avoid contact with the water in the area of the bloom. Blooms are often localized and you can recreate elsewhere in the lake.
- Keep children and pets out of the water.
- Do not drink untreated lake water. If you suspect a bloom near your intake, don’t drink, cook or shower with the water. Boiling water doesn’t destroy the toxins.
- See a doctor if someone gets ill after exposure to an algae bloom and report algae-related illnesses to the health department.
What can we do to prevent blue-green algae blooms?
Nuisance algae blooms result from too much nutrient loading to the lake; preventing them requires a long term strategy. LCC works diligently to address root causes and advance efforts to reduce nutrient loading. We have championed bans on phosphorus in lawn fertilizer and laundry and dishwasher detergents and continue to advocate for stringent water protection regulations and enforcement, stormwater controls, and upgrading and maintaining wastewater treatment plants. At a personal level there are a number of steps you can take as described in our Lake Protection Pledge. These include using only phosphorus-free fertilizers, cleaning storm drains, preventing leaves and grass clippings from entering waterways, maintaining or planting native trees and shrubs around shorelines and streams to reduce erosion, properly maintaining your septic system, and many more.
LCC's Past and Ongoing Projects
- Raised awareness of increase in blue-green algae blooms and pushed for research and monitoring to understand causes.
- Established and run a volunteer monitoring program. We train monitors around the lake to recognize blue-green algae and provide tools for them to report blooms. Information gathered is shared with the Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health to inform the public through about conditions.
- Produced a brochure to help distinguish blue-green algae from other algae species and other floating phenomena in Lake Champlain.
- Conducts weekly surveys of public access points around the lake during the summer and report on algae bloom conditions.
- Advances policies, programs and regulations to reduce nutrient loading to Lake Champlain.
Algae Monitoring Results Summary for 2012
Results from the Lake Champlain Committee's volunteer water monitoring program provide insight into the occurrence of blue-green algae blooms around Lake Champlain.
The 2012 algae monitoring season was the first in which volunteers reported observations of blue-green algae conditions without collecting water samples. The new approach allowed us to expand the number of sites monitored. We trained 114 monitors during 21 training sessions around the Lake Champlain Basin. Monitors submitted 468 reports from 59 different sites during the ten weeks between the beginning of July and Labor Day. The vast majority of reports (94.2%) indicated no algae blooms present. Of the remaining reports 3.6% indicated low level blooms and 2.1% indicated extensive blooms.
The ten reports of extensive blooms occurred in six different weeks at seven different locations. Two reports came during the early summer associated with an extended warm calm spell. Five reports came from three different locations in Missisquoi Bay. In August we received one report each from Long Point in Ferrisburgh and from St. Albans Bay Park. The final two reports came from Rouses Point in New York during the last two weeks of the program; these were not reports of the typical bloom-forming blue-green algae but rather of a benthic genus, Lyngbya.
The 2012 summer program has successfully shown that volunteer monitors can provide valuable information about the presence of blue-green algae blooms for public health officials. Data collected by the volunteers were uploaded onto the Department of Health’s on-line Lake Champlain Map for tracking blooms. Without LCC’s volunteer blue-green algae monitoring program the status and prevalence of blue-green algae on the lake would be considerably less clear.
2012 Algae Monitor Reports
|Lake Section||#Sites||#Reports||No BGA Reported||Low BGA Reported||High BGA Reported|
|South of Crown Pt.||3||28||28||0||0|
|South Main Lake (VT)||9||64||59||3||2|
|Inland Sea and Islands||17||132||125||6||1|