Clean Water: Lake Champlain in Uncertain Times

Rep Squirrel and Scientist Dolan presenting about the Clean Water Initiative
Type: 
Blog Post

An informative presentation entitled: Lake Champlain in Challenging Times, given by Kari Dolan manager of Vermont's Clean Water Initiative, and Representative Trevor Squirrell, clerk of the Vermont House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee, who is also on the House Clean Water Working Group.

Watch the video filmed by Channel 17, Town Meeting Television, on CCTV.org (70 minutes)

Unofficial Partial Transcript

Introduction by Sonja Schuler

of the Champlain Valley League of Women Voters

Good Evening, and welcome to Lake Champlain in Challenging Times.  We have with us tonight Kari Dolan, who is the Manager of the Vermont Clean Water Initiative, and she'll explain a lot more about what this program does.  Kari has a bachelor degree in Biology, and two masters degrees in Environmental Science and Public Policy.  And prior to this job, she and I knew each other when she was the River Corridor and Floodplains coordinator for the State of Vermont.

We also have with us Representative Trevor Squirrel, who represents Jericho and Underhill in the legislature.  He is clerk of the House Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife Committee, and is also on the House Clean Water Working Group.  Trevor has a bachelor's degree in Psychology.  His day job is the Director of the Vermont Brain Injury Association.  And he has a master's degree in Environmental Science, so he is quite the well-rounded individual.  Well with that, I also want to thank CCTV for filming this for us, and I'll turn it over to Kari.

Kari Dolan, manager of the Clean Water Institute

Thank you very much.  I have a cold today, so I'll try to speak clearly.  I apologize if I'm sounding a bit hoarse. 

Before I begin, I'd also like to mention that Rep. Squirrell is a hero of mine, because he, in his prior life, was a huge advocate for kids' soccer programs.  And my kids grew up playing soccer and took advantage of those wonderful fields in central Vermont and Chittenden County that he was able to secure.  It's a terrific legacy.

Vermont Water important in many sectors

And taking about legacies, we certainly have an important legacy to lay out for us in the future.  As you had mentioned, my name is Kari Dolan, I manage the Clean Water Initiative program, which coordinates implementation for restoration activities.  We manage all the grant funding associated with our restoration work, we track, communicate, and report on our progress.  And we provide staff support to this new organization, called the Vermont Clean Water Fund Board, which manages a new clean water fund for the state.  With that work, we work very closely with local, state, and federal partners, to address our work.  it's exciting because we have bashed down those silos between government agencies, we work very closely with our sister agencies, the Agency of Agriculture, for example, the Agency of Transportation, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, in particular.  And that's important because we recognize that water quality, or clean water, is such an important part of the fabric of Vermont.  It's important for our economy, it's important for our culture, it's important for our community identity.  And when we can embrace that amount of responsibilty, we can achieve not only a healthy and vibrant economy, but an economy that is going to be there for future generations.

Why We Need Clean Water

Clean water is so important for so many uses.  It's important for drinking water.  It is important for our recreational uses, and It's important, as I mentioned, for our tourisism and natural resource based tourists.  In fact, tourism statewide is about a  2.5 billion dollar industry in the state of Vermont. That's substantial.  Certainly our water: our rivers, our lakes, our beautiful wetlands, our ponds, are an attractive component to that tourism economy.  Our second home owners in town that border Lake Champlain spend $150 million annually.  Overnight visitors just in Lake Champlain Valley spend over $300 million annually.  And day visitors, we happen to be in a great location for peolewho come up from Boston or down from Montreal, our day visitors spend about$30 million annually.

We know that when you have degraded waters, it can have an impact on our property values. And bolstering and supporting clean water can support our property values at the level we need it to.  And as i menioned, clean wate ris such an integral part of our brand.  We talk of often times about "green mountains and blue waters."  This whole initiative is about embracing that vision into the future.

This slide [05:11] represents some that, represents how important these rivers, and lakes, and streams and ponds are to our communities.  And when we talk about restoration, we are talking about restoring those backyard streams.  Certainly downstream of those backyard streams, may be Lake Champlain, and ultimately that's our objective here, but we know we can improve the water quality of our community waters, and that's where we anticipate seeing the greatest benefit.  First, and as water quality improves we'll see the benefit at Lake Champlain and other receiving bodies of water as well.

Pollutants in our Waters

[05:48] Unfortunately, when we use our lands in certain ways, and expose our ground to weathering, we can cause impacts.  The history of clean water is kind of interesting, we recognize that much of our water quality challenges were waste water not being treated effectively.  Over the past 30 years or so, similar to communities around the country, the state and its federal partners have invested significantly in waste water treatment plants, and that showed an enormous benefit to our receiving waters.  But over time, some of that progress is being overwhelmed by this impact what we call polluted runoff.  When rain or snowmelt hits hard surfaces, or hits exposed ground, or ground that doesn't have any cover on it, and you add a little slope to that, such as in the Green Mountains, you end up resulting in a significant amount of erosion, and the delivery of those sediments, and the nutrient pollution that's bound to those sediments.  This is what we call non-point-source pollution.  It's not a point of pipe, but lots of little problems everywhere, all because of rainfall and snowmelt on that landscape.  This is what we need to do: we need to effectively address the biggest needs here, the biggest challenges, to address that erosion and delivery of pollutants into our receiving waters.

Nutrients as Pollutants

This slide shows a healthy Lake Champlain, a healthy Lake Memphremagog, healthy Connecticut river.  But unfortunately, and some periods of the year, in some of our water bodies, when you add too much nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, into our receiving waters, it acts like baking soda in cookies: it encourages the fertilization of the algae in the waters, and you get algae blooms.  This is why we are all about trying to reduce the nutrient pollution, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and sediment pollution into our waters, because we want to reduce the downstream impacts of having too much pollution coming into our waters  Those cost, increases treatment costs, decreases local property values, it has an impact on our local economy.

Trending in the Wrong Direction

[08:20] This slide illustrates the data which helps to show the condition of Lake Champlain, and in this case, Lake Memphremagog.  cut it up into various segments. Each segment represents the stream that runs into it.  And what we find is that, wherever you are in Lake Champlain, is that unfortunately the water quality is not meeting the state water quality standards.   Here on the dotted blue line are the state water quality standards for each segment of the lake.  It changes because some parts of the lake are deeper, and some are shallower, so the standards change, but regardless of that, what we see over time, is that not only that our water quality testing data shows we are not meeting water quality standards, we're also trending in the wrong direction.  It's moving away from that blue line. 

Similarly with Lake Mempremagog, and we have similar data for the Connecticut river drainages.   Here, most of Lake Memphremagog--has anyone been over there by the Northeast Kingdom--interesting, it is a beautiful lake.  Most of the watershed is in Vermont, that drains into Lake Memphremagog, but much most of the lake itself is in Canada.  So we, Vermont, is responsible, unfortunately, for the reason we are not meeting water quality standards.  Because all that land, draining into this section, the Vermont section of the lake, is not meeting standards.  And unfortunately Canada is bearing much of the brunt of that impact.

Aiming for Incremental Water Quality Improvement

[10:10] We're not talking about going to zero in terms of the phosphorus pollutant reduction for our surface waters.  But we do need to reduce these pollutants.  For Lake Champlain Basin, which is half the state (half the state drains into Lake Champlain!) we need to reduce the phosphorus pollution by 34% over 20 years.  Well, how are we going to do that?  Well, what we need to do, first of all, is to understand what are the various sources that are contributing to the pollution problem, and then how do we work with each of those pollutant sources to reduce enough to meet those water quality standards.  This pie chart shows that all the sources here: Agriculture, Forestry Management, Developed Lands--that means hard surfaces like parking lots, and rooftops and roads, Wastewater Treatment, and Unstable Stream Channels; all need to do enough to reduce their share of pollution to meet their share of targeted pollution reduction

"All-In" Approach

[11:23] So we've taken an approach, the "All-In" Approach.  The restoration of Lake Champlain has been ongoing for many, many years.

Watch/Listen to the rest of the program at CCTV.org 

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