LCC Update & Call to Action on Blue-green Algae Blooms
Blue-green algae blooms have begun developing on Lake Champlain, particularly in the shallow northeastern bays – Missisquoi and St. Albans. Blue-green algae thrive in nutrient-rich water and can multiply rapidly to form blooms and scums. It is not unusual for blooms to develop in late summer when the water warms. Periods of calm hot weather exacerbate bloom conditions, and they can appear anywhere.
Algae conditions can vary widely over short time frames and short distances. While a bloom might occur in one isolated bay, the next cove over can be algae free. Some blooms persist for days, while others pop up and then disappear within a span of hours. Blooms are pushed by the prevailing winds, leading to denser shoreline accumulations downwind.
Below is information on how to stay informed, protect yourself, report blooms, and take action.
The Lake Champlain Committee (LCC) has been tracking algae blooms since 2003. Our award-winning program provides information to beach managers, environmental and public health officials, and citizens about the frequency and prevalence of blooms. We annually train hundreds of people to assess and report on water conditions. During the 2014 summer season we have been receiving reports from trained monitors at over 75 locations around the lake.
The summary of all blue-green algae monitoring reports received can be found on this blue-green algae tracker map maintained by the Vermont Department of Health (this includes New York reports). The vast majority of this data is provided by LCC volunteers. To keep track of where algae blooms are occurring near you, email email@example.com or call 802-658-1414 to sign up for our weekly report on conditions. The Lake Champlain Committee can also provide an informational session in your community about blue-green algae.
For your protection, avoid green scummy waters. Contact with a bloom can cause skin rashes and stomach illnesses including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Aerosolized water droplets with algae in them can produce allergy-like symptoms. Some species under some conditions can produce toxins that affect the liver while other species' compounds affect the nervous system. Children and dogs are most vulnerable because they are less particular about what they eat or drink or where they swim; they are more likely to ingest water; they are smaller so a dosage has a greater affect. 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.
What To Do If You See a Bloom
If you see an algae bloom please submit an observation of water conditions. The reporting form is available on the LCC website along with:
Avoid contact with the water in the area of the bloom. 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 toxins. See a doctor if someone gets ill after exposure to an algae bloom and report algae-related illnesses to the health department.
The Lake Champlain Committee has compiled a list of actions you can take to help create a cleaner lake. They include steps to reduce phosphorus pollution that contribute to algae blooms. These range from obvious actions like cleaning up after pets and not spreading phosphorus in lawn fertilizer, to less apparent steps like conserving water and directing gutter spouts to discharge onto vegetated areas rather than pavement (to slow water and prevent soil erosion). See the whole list of actions, and pledge to do your part at our Lake Protection Pledge page.
Drinking Water Standards
Push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come out with algae toxin standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Currently, there are no federal standards for what level of algae or algae toxins constitute an unacceptable health risk. EPA has both the responsibility and capability to develop such standards and states have been pleading for their assistance. EPA seems to be trapped in a cycle of over analysis in search of perfect standards. Meanwhile states have cobbled together a mishmash of different approaches in the absence of EPA leadership. Help ensure that the Toledo experience forces EPA to come out with clear guidance.
Require Agricultural Best Management Practices
There is currently a petition before the Vermont Agency of Agriculture that calls for "Best Management Practices" from select farms. If accepted, the petition would protect Missisquoi Bay from pollution from poorly managed agricultural operations. It is based on a scientific study that identified "critical source areas" of phosphorus discharge - areas that send a disproportionately large amount of phosphorus to the lake because of the soils, slopes or types of farming done. The petition would require practices like cover crops to retain soil over the winter, grassed waterways to control farm and field erosion, and vegetated filter strips to reduce sediment in runoff.
Many farmers have already implemented such practices, but we can't depend on voluntary actions alone. Add your voice to the call for greater regulatory controls to prevent pollution and protect lake health. Written comments will be accepted up until 4:30 PM on August 18. Send them to: Laura DiPietro, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, 116 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05620 or AGR.MissisquoiBMP@state.vt.us.