LCC News

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...

Read more about Lake Champlain's threatened and endangered bird species, fishing regulation changes, replica boats, invasive species in the Adirondacks, erosion and more. Read...

March 16-22 - Fix a Leak Week

More than one trillion gallons of water are lost annually in the U.S. due to easy-to-fix household leaks. Fix them during Fix a Leak Week!

LCC, the US Environmental Protection Agency and other WaterSense partners are promoting a week focused on water conservation. Wasting water wastes energy and money and can contribute to lake pollution. Get a jump on the week by reviewing your water bills and seeing how much water you consume, then visit LCC's Water Conservation page for additional water saving tips. 

If your faucet drips or your toilet runs it can waste over 10,000 gallons a year -- the amount of water in a typical backyard swimming pool. Finding and fixing leaks around the home can be as simple as check, twist and replace.

·         Check toilets - put a few drops of food coloring into the tank; wait a few minutes and see if the color appears in the bowl before you flush. If it does, there's a leak.

·         Twist on aerators - add new WaterSense labeled faucet aerators and showerheads and tighten pipe and hose connections to save water.

·         Replace leaking fixtures - be sure to choose WaterSense labeled fixtures when building or rennovating. They are independently certified to use 20 percent less water and perform as well or better than standard models.

March 17 - Clean Water Day 

Come learn about water quality legislation pending in the Vermont Legislature and show your support for clean water at the Vermont state capitol in Montpelier. This program runs from 9:30 AM to noon in Room 11 of the Vermont State House. Hear about water quality priorities from Speaker of the House Shap Smith, get briefings on important bills moving through the Legislature, and connect with other citizens who care about clean waterways. Let legislators know you want to see action to protect water by coming to "the people's house" on St. Patrick's Day. Clean Water Day is sponsored by LCC, Vermont Conservation Voters, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Sierra Club Vermont, Toxics Action Center, and Watersheds United Vermont. To RSVP, email lcc@lakechamplaincommittee.org. Read...

Water quality improvements for Lake Champlain were a central theme when Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin stepped to the podium to deliver his inaugural address on January 8th. The Governor called for increased accountability for farm pollution and the establishment of a clean water fund that would provide increased funding for water quality projects. Read...

Earlier this week the Vermont House unanimously approved H.4, a bill to ban the manufacture and sale of harmful plastic microbeads from personal care products and over the counter drugs. These plastic beads are problematic because they wash down drains, slip through wastewater treatment plants and end up in our waterways. Read...

The spiny water flea arrived in Lake Champlain last summer, becoming the 51st invasive species in the lake. We know it won’t be the last. Recently, a group of environmental professionals discussed what species posed the greatest risk of being the next arrival. Three likely candidates were round goby, hydrilla, and VHS. Read...

Since 2011 the region has made considerable investments in preparing for future floods. We all want to be more resilient when disasters like Tropical Storm Irene or the lake flooding of 2011 come about. Read...

Last August a blue-green algae bloom over the water treatment intake for Toledo, Ohio caused the city to test for the presence of microcystin, a toxin produced by some blue-green algae species. They found more than 1 part per billion of microcystin in the finished water, with concentrations peaking at about 2.5 parts per billion over the next two days. Read...

The flooding from Tropical Storm Irene made tangible the community costs that can occur when landowners develop floodplains. Homes and structures built too close to the water washed away becoming dangerous projectiles and in some cases damaging bridges or downstream properties. Read...

While skating along the flat clear ice of Mallets Bay four or five years ago, Jamie Leopold noticed a geyser of water shooting straight up into the air – 30 to 50 feet high. He may have witnessed a particularly large ice volcano. Read...

On January 21 a truck went through the ice on the banks of Fort Ticonderoga. Luckily both the driver and passenger made it out safely but the vehicle is at the bottom of the lake. It's now the driver's responsibility to get the truck out of the water or face a fine. 

Read...

Read more about algae blooms and nutrient levels, Wisconsin farms pollution reduction, manure in court rulings, how diabetes medication affects fish health, and more. Read...

Join the Lake Champlain Committee (LCC), Satellites, Weather and Climate (SWAC) and Champlain Basin Education Initiative (CBEI) partners as we consider how to structure investigations of the places we live using a variety of technology. Read...