Updated Report Assesses Health of Lake Champlain Ecosystem

Jun 21, 2018

The Lake Champlain Basin Program recently released its latest State Of The Lake report on the health of Lake Champlain.  While the report finds phosphorus is still problematic, there is some progress in other areas.

The 2018 State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report is the latest update to an assessment of Lake Champlain that is released every three years.

Among the report’s findings: phosphorus concentrations remain too high in many parts of the lake; the occurrence of algae blooms is mixed across the five segments of the lake; sea lamprey wounding on lake trout has increased but is stable on Atlantic salmon and there have been no new invasive species detected in the lake since 2014.

Lake Champlain Basin Program Director Eric Howe says the 2018 report focuses on communicating the science of the monitoring and research programs under way over the past 25 years.  “One of the new elements that we are focusing on in this report is looking at how different communities are engaging and understanding and appreciating the watershed itself and of course the lake itself. So the new report follows the themes that were highlighted in the 2017 Opportunities for Action, which is our management plan for the watershed. And those four themes are clean water, healthy ecosystems, thriving communities and an informed and involved public. And it’s these last two themes the thriving ecosystems and informed and involved public in which we try to highlight the different projects and programs that communities and outreach programs are working on.”

The EPA has mandated that Vermont clean up the lake by reducing phosphorus runoff that causes toxic algae blooms. In 2015, the state legislature outlined a plan. Vermont has estimated it will need up to $25 million annually over the next 20 years for lake cleanup.  Howe says the report found an increase in phosphorus in certain areas of the lake.   “Phosphorus is a naturally occurring element. When we have too much phosphorus that’s when we have these excessive algal blooms that we see in certain areas of the lake. And so we need to try and identify the most effective ways to reduce the amount of phosphorus that’s being delivered to those particular parts of the lake.  And one of the challenges we have is of course that we have imported a lot of phosphorus into the watershed over the last half century or so for agriculture and also for just general residential use, fertilizing lawns and so forth.”

The report highlights progress with boat steward programs that prevent the spread of invasive species.  It found no reports of new invasives since the spiny waterflea in 2014.  “The invasive species story is one of our success stories that we’re proud of.  Actually the state of New York has been doing a lot over the past few years with spread prevention awareness. It started in Lake George and then expanded up through the rest of the Adirondacks. And in my mind that helps a lot just making sure that boaters and people in general are aware of the importance of cleaning and draining and drying their gear in between moving their boats between water bodies. That alone can have a huge impact.”

Howe, a scientist by training, says the report offers varied indices on the lake’s ecosystem.  “It really depends on which aspect of the lake you’re interested in. With invasive species there definitely are success stories there. With phosphorus loading into the lake there are success stories although you have to look a little bit harder to find them. Other elements of the report describe that mercury concentration in our lake trout and bass is increasing again and we’re not quite sure why.  Another area to work on is with sea lamprey management in the lake.”

A French translation of the report will be posted by July 1st.