Monday’s closure of two popular beaches in Burlington is a stark reminder of why Vermont’s focus on water quality is so timely and important. Sightings of blue-green algae along the Burlington shoreline prompted low alert warnings last Friday and led to beach closures in the area earlier this week.
A quick response to these sightings is vital since certain types of blue-green algae produce toxins that are harmful to people and their pets. Exposure can result in skin irritations, liver damage, and neurological disease. Large blooms of blue-green algae also negatively impact the environment by depleting oxygen levels in the surrounding water when they decay – killing fish and other aquatic plants. .
These blooms form during the summer months of long hours of sunlight and warm water temperature in lakes and ponds with excess nutrients like phosphorus. The problem is especially acute on Lake Champlain, where the high concentration of phosphorus comes largely from human activity in the watershed, including stormwater runoff from developed areas, agricultural practices, and wastewater treatment facilities.
This summer, Vermonters are particularly attuned to water quality challenges following the passage of a clean water bill earlier this year. While not perfect, the legislation is a significant step towards reducing the high levels of phosphorus that plague our waterways . As new programs are put in place, CLF will continue to negotiate tight controls for pollutants in Lake Champlain and across the state.
Unfortunately, beach closures like the ones in Burlington this week aren’t limited to Vermont. CLF has recently filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island to remedy the regular closure of some of the state’s most popular beaches. Water pollution is a regional challenge, and CLF will continue to fight for clean, healthy waters throughout New England.