What is the State of the Lake?

Earlier this summer the Lake Champlain Basin Program released the 2018 State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report. The report, produced every three years, is a health check on the lake. The 2018 document looks at water quality, ecosystem health, economic impacts and citizen engagement. You can get a free copy of the report by calling the Lake Champlain Basin Program at (802) 372-3213. Electronic versions of the 2018 State of the Lake report may be found at http://sol.lcbp.org(English version) and http://sol.lcbp.org/fr/ (French version).

“This report helps the public to interpret information about the Lake using the best scientific data available. Lake managers use this information to develop and assess strategies for improving water quality in Lake Champlain,” said Dr. Eric Howe, LCBP Director. “In the 2018 report, we provide updated information on the many issues facing Lake Champlain.” 

“Lake Champlain is an amazing resource of regional significance. Numerous efforts are underway, including many funded by EPA, to address water quality, invasive species, and other problems facing the lake,” said Alexandra Dunn, US Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator for New England. “While some improvements will take many years to achieve, these periodic reports on status and trends are critical – they help us know whether we are making progress. It is important that we continue to work closely with our state and local partners to implement effective, long-term actions to protect and improve water quality in Lake Champlain.”

The 2018 report emphasizes the importance of community engagement and recreation opportunities to help stakeholders connect with the Lake, and understand the importance of protecting this resource. The report highlights the success of the LCBP Boat Launch Steward program, in which over ten thousand boaters are welcomed at public launches each year and informed about the importance of properly decontaminating their gear before entering the Lake, and when leaving. The report also sounds an alarm on the lack of change in phosphorus conditions across the Lake, and describes changes in the amount of phosphorus delivered to the lake each year. 

Major messages from the 2018 report include:

Clean Water

  • Lake Champlain’s in-lake phosphorus concentrations are still too high in many parts of the Lake, even though some of the Lake Champlain embayments, including Cumberland, Burlington, and Shelburne bays continue to meet their phosphorus targets. However, long-term trends are not improving for most lake segments.
  • New York, Vermont and Québec phosphorus loading from wastewater treatment facilities is meeting target levels and loading has continued to decrease since the release of the 2015 State of Lake Report.
  • Public beach closures are good or fair for the four lake segments with public beaches, and trends are mixed – the status of the Missisquoi Bay, Northeast Arm, and Malletts Bay segments are considered good, which is consistent with previous reports. The status of the Main Lake segment is fair but the trend is deteriorating as public beaches are experiencing closures more frequently.
  • While most days it is safe to swim in nearly all parts of Lake Champlain, beach closures do sometimes occur, particularly in the Northeast Arm, usually due to coliform bacteria from surface water.
  • Occurrence of cyanobacteria blooms is mixed across the five lake segments; the status for two segments (Malletts Bay and the Main Lake) is considered good. Missisquoi Bay was scored with a poor status because this segment continues to experience cyanobacteria blooms annually, and some portions of the Northeast Arm also experience regular blooms, resulting in a fair status. Status data is not available for the South Lake during this reporting period. Similar to other lakes around the world, cyanobacteria blooms continue to be a nuisance with potential human health implications. Lakewide, 97% of the water quality samples for cyanobacteria collected by the U.S. monitoring programs show that no visible algae were present between 2015-2017. 
  • Mercury in the tissue of sportfish has increased since 2011. Fisheries biologists are uncertain what may be causing this change in trend for this indicator.

Healthy Ecosystems

  • Sea lamprey wounding on lake trout has increased in the past two years, but wounding on Atlantic salmon is more stable over the three-year reporting period, near the target level of 15 wounds per 100 Atlantic salmon. Fisheries biologists are still trying to understand the increase of sea lamprey wounding rates on lake trout.
  • There have been no new AIS invasions to Lake Champlain since spiny waterflea in 2014. Lake Champlain continues to hold steady with 50 non-native species compared to the St Lawrence River (87 species), Great Lakes (187) and the Hudson River (122) systems, all of which are potential vectors to Lake Champlain. The potential spread of invasive species to and from nearby waterways is apparent and we must remain diligent as boats are launched and retrieved from Lake Champlain.
  • Water chestnut management continues to be successful at reducing the percentage of lake area covered by this invasive plant at the southern end of Lake Champlain.

Thriving Communities

  • The condition of Lake Champlain can have a direct impact on local municipalities. For example, a 2016 University of Vermont study indicated that a significant deterioration in water quality could cause home values to drop as much as 37%, whereas improvements in water quality could increase the value of homes in lakeshore increase as much as $15,000.
  • It is imperative for local communities to continue work with engineers, local watershed groups, universities and other partners to decrease stormwater runoff and reduce polluted water from entering nearby streams and rivers, including providing rivers with increased corridors to meander, identified as critical areas during floods. In all three jurisdictions, state, provincial and regional officials are working with DPW crews in particular to manage nutrient and chloride runoff from local and state roads. 
  • Many communities are suffering from impacts of aging infrastructure of sewer and water lines, which are sometimes linked to combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that may lead to temporary beach closures.
  • By opening up or improving more than 20 car top boat access areas in New York, Vermont and Québec in the past three years, residents and visitors have more recreational opportunities for paddling. By spending more time on the waterways, recreational users become more aware of local pollution to rivers and streams that drain to Lake Champlain and may develop an appreciation for protecting their resource. Boat access improvements were also provided throughout the region for trailered boats and recreational vehicles.

Informed and Involved Public

  • Training teachers and students about watershed issues is key to the future of the Lake Champlain Basin, as students are inheriting the water quality issues the Lake faces today. The cumulative impact of more than one hundred teachers being trained with watershed issues each year has a tremendous multiplier effect on the number of students and future stewards reached. Through interdisciplinary courses offered through the Champlain Basin Education Initiative, Lake Champlain Committee, Lake Champlain Sea Grant, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, The Wild Center, local watershed groups, Historical Associations and other partners, a better, more holistic, understanding of watershed issues should result in more stewardship activities in years to come.
  • To increase enthusiasm for recreational fishing and to help students learn about watershed issues, chapters of Trout Unlimited in New York and Vermont assisted more than 60 schools and 1,000 students as they raised salmon and trout in their classrooms in 2017. For some students, releasing the fish in the streams is the first river or stream visit that they have experienced.
  • Citizen action is important. Eleven years of data collected through the Lake Champlain Boat Launch Steward program has demonstrated that 89% of boaters now take AIS spread prevention measuresDuring this same timeframe, 4,782 invasive species were intercepted on boats either launching or being retrieved from Lake Champlain.
  • More than 200 citizens attend annual trainings by the Lake Champlain Committee to monitor for cyanobacteria blooms. Last year, more than 110 monitors documented near-shore observations each week, following established protocols for the Lake Champlain Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program. The data is then verified and posted on-line as a public reference for beachgoers.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) works in partnership with government agencies from New York, Vermont, and Québec, private organizations, local communities, and individuals to coordinate and fund efforts that benefit the Lake Champlain Basin’s water quality, fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources.