Water News from Near and Far

Burlington Pharmaceutical Survey

We all take medicine… but how do we dispose of it? If you are a Burlington resident and are 18 years old or older, please help researchers at the University of Vermont study pharmaceutical pollution in Lake Champlain by filling out an anonymous survey that will help answer this question. The survey is being conducted by Dr. Christine Vatovec at UVM. She wants to know about Burlington residents' pharmaceutical purchasing, use, and disposal practices. Please consider participating! The survey takes about 20 minutes and could lead to strategies that limit discharge of pharmaceuticals to Lake Champlain. 

Lake Sturgeon Return

Fisheries staff from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department reported that a total of 17 lake sturgeon were collected during recent sampling activities on several Lake Champlain tributaries, an encouraging sign for the prehistoric, endangered species.

"We started sampling in mid-May, collecting 16 sturgeon in the Winooski River over a five day span, as well as one sturgeon in the Lamoille River in three days of work," said Chet MacKenzie, fisheries program manager with Vermont Fish & Wildlife.  "Water levels and temperatures were excellent for collecting fish in the Winooski, but not ideal for effective sampling in the Lamoille."

Sturgeon collected this year ranged in length from 48 to 55 inches and weighed between 20 and 40 pounds. The single sturgeon collected in the Lamoille River was identified as a fish that had been previously captured and tagged in 1999.

"By comparison, a total of 25 sturgeon were collected at spawning sites in the Winooski and Lamoille rivers during a 5-year span from 1998 to 2002," said MacKenzie. "While it's too early to know if the increase in the number of sturgeon collected this year indicates the population is beginning to rebound, it is good news that so many fish were collected in such a short time."

MacKenzie said another encouraging sign this year was that sea lamprey wounding rates had dropped significantly from rates observed during previous sampling.  The number of fresh and healing wounds on sturgeon collected this year had dropped to 18 wounds per 100 fish, significantly lower than the 276 wounds per 100 fish seen on fish collected between 1998 and 2002.

The department began collecting lake sturgeon again this past spring at various spawning sites in the Winooski and Lamoille rivers in order to tag fish with radio transmitters to monitor their seasonal movements. Sturgeon were last sampled in Lake Champlain in 2002.

"We're hoping to be able to identify locations in the lake where sturgeon congregate so that future sampling can be done more effectively, allowing us to learn more about their movements in the lake and spawning tributaries," MacKenzie said.

A total of ten sturgeon in the Winooski were tagged with the transmitters, which will enable fisheries biologists to track them for the next ten years.  So far, all ten sturgeon have migrated out of the river and have been located in Lake Champlain. Lake sturgeon movements are being monitored by boat with a portable receiver and by a network of stationary receivers spread throughout the lake by researchers from the University of Vermont.

MacKenzie said future sturgeon sampling is also planned for the Missisquoi River and Otter Creek, as well as additional sampling in the Winooski and Lamoille rivers.

Lake sturgeon, which in Vermont are only found in Lake Champlain and the lower sections of the Winooski, Lamoille and Missisquoi rivers and Otter Creek, are a unique, ancient species of fish that are fully-protected by state law and must be immediately released if caught incidentally. Lake Champlain has the only lake sturgeon population in New England.

The department asks anglers to help population recovery efforts by reporting any sturgeon they catch by calling 802-878-1564, or by contacting their local game warden or district office. Information obtained about sturgeon catches can be valuable to the department's sampling efforts and to monitoring the trend in sturgeon abundance over time.

Anglers and members of the public are also asked to report illegal sturgeon harvest to law enforcement immediately by calling their local game warden, a state police dispatch center or Operation Game Thief at 1-800-752-5378.

To learn more about Vermont's fisheries management programs and fishing in Vermont, visit http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com

Flood Damage Hits Central VT Again

Mid summer storms pounded central Vermont with up to six inches of rain in places. Flood damage struck throughout Barre and Plainfield. Eighty homes were damaged and seven were deemed uninhabitable. Governor Shumlin noted that this is the fourth time in his four and a half years as Governor that he has visited Barre to view flood damage. In April of this year, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development released a draft report that identified steps Barre could take to make itself more flood resilient.  The report called for bridge and culvert improvements, changes to municipal planning procedures, and possible purchase and demolition of between 25 and 30 structures along Gunner Brook in order to reestablish floodplain access as steps that would benefit the community. Global warming will lead to more intense storms throughout the region and there will be places vulnerable to flooding where we will have to consider strategic disinvestment in existing resources, as LCC discussed in our Lessons from the Flood document. 

Proposal to Add Critical Habitats Under Endangered Species Protections

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources plans to request amendments to Vermont’s threatened and endangered species statute.  The changes would include identification and protection of well-defined critical habitats that endangered and threatened species need to survive. Impacts to critical habitat would need to be avoided or lessened. In cases where impact could not be avoided, the Agency could require mitigation. They are seeking input from stakeholders and other interested parties. A kick off meeting was held in early August and at least one more public meeting will be held later in the fall. 

Reconstruction completed at South Hero boat launch

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department completed reconstruction of the John Guilmette Fishing Access Area on Lake Champlain in South Hero and the facility is now open for public use. The site has a new boat ramp and dock structures, and a renovated parking area. Additionally, the site utilizes a pervious grass parking surface, grass-lined drainage swales, rock drains, new landscaping, and “no-mow” sections along the entire project to meet the state’s shoreline protection standards.

“We feel that the new facility is much more user-friendly and environmentally responsible, and will serve the public well for years to come.”

“Given the amount of use the access area sees throughout the year by anglers, boaters and other recreationalists, it was paramount that we redeveloped the access area to meet their needs while also complying with ADA and Vermont environmental guidelines,” said Mike Wichrowski, facility and lands administrator with Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

The reconstruction project began last fall and was funded by the Department’s access area program.

Reducing P Loading Not Enough For Lake of the Woods

The sixth largest freshwater lake by surface area in the United State sits shares a border between the U.S. and Canada. No it’s not Lake Champlain, but rather Lake of the Woods which straddles the Minnesota, Ontario, Alberta border. Lake of the Woods is about three times larger than Lake Champlain and has also suffered from harmful algae blooms.

Excessive nutrient loading to Lake of the Woods came mostly from paper mills and cities along the Rainy River. Annual nutrient loads have declined substantially since the 1970s. Nonetheless, algae still cover much of the lake during the summer.

Researchers have found that nutrients deposited between the 1930s and 1970s have been cycling between the sediments and the algae. Curtailing current inputs of nutrients is not sufficient to stop the blooms.

Changing weather patterns also promote algae growth. Increased surface water temperatures have led to an additional 28 days of ice-free water each year, an extra month in the algae growing season. Also, climate models predict less wind in the region meaning calmer waters which could promote more phosphorus release from sediments.

While reducing phosphorus loading has not yet led to a reduction in algae blooms on Lake of the Woods, it is also true that the lake could not begin the process of healing itself until those annual loads declined.