As I begin to explore paddling opportunities available to me from my new home in Castleton, Vermont, I am truly optimistic that the huge piles of trash that were an ongoing part of my Texas experiences will no longer be a part of the outing here. My first paddling adventures in New England were up in Northern New Hampshire on Lake Umbagog and on the Androscoggin near Milan. I only saw a few items that didn’t fit in the natural landscape in two full days of paddling: a lost sports cap, a small article of clothing, a food wrapper. All in all, a refreshingly small amount of human evidence on the landscape. Mind you I hadn’t dropped a sample bag into the water to take with me to grow e.Coli or run any pH, dissolved oxygen, phosphorous, or nitrogen readings, but my visual inspection indicated that the river and lake were clean.
Last fall, my first in Vermont, included my first paddle on Lake Champlain since I moved here from Dallas. I started out in the water near Mt. Independence by putting in where Chipmans Point Road ends. I paddled about 10 miles that day, including a trip up East Creek about a mile and a half. It was a paddle adventure nearly void of floatable trash. I saw wildlife, fishermen, sailboats, and other points of interest. All in all, the lake had the appearance of being part of a healthy-looking watershed open to recreational opportunity.
Shortly after that paddle I started hearing the news reports about the upcoming release of a pollution limits plan, or TMDL, on Lake Champlain. I wasn’t shocked that another body of water in America was experiencing stresses brought on by human activity. However, I was saddened to see it was the big beautiful lake I had just enjoyed paddling. Back in Dallas, I had participated in the creation of a TMDL for e.Coli in the Upper Trinity River watershed, so I had a good idea of the long process that had already taken place here in Vermont. I decided to attend the public TMDL 2.0 presentation at the Vermont Law School in October of 2015. My takeaway from the meeting was that of a sadly repeating trend: money and economic needs versus the environment.
There is no getting away from the problems we have had throughout the history of humankind. We tend to use our waterways as dumping grounds for our waste, whether intentional or accidental. This must stop if we are to continue to all get along in a shrinking pool of available fresh water. We have pollution that we can actually see and we have pollution that only shows itself through the consequences of biological changes that we initiate with alterations in the water.
The first is easy to identify and get a handle on where it comes from. On several recent paddle adventures on Otter Creek, I could see items that had been deliberately – and illegally – dumped in the water, such as a car battery, a refrigerator, a toilet, and an old CRT TV. The more persistent element of plastic bottles, polystyrene food containers, and other small floatable forms of human convenience was also visible on my trips.
But the pollution that’s invisible to the unaided eye can be every bit as hazardous to the ecosystem. Chemical changes can and do bring on huge unintended consequences to a watershed. Let’s support our local governments and farmers as they move forward to bring needed changes to restrict and eliminate the unseen pollution getting into our watersheds. September is River Cleanup Month in Vermont and I urge you to find a local group that is going out and cleaning up our watersheds. If you are really interested, I am sure you can get out there and clear a log jam and help remove the floatable trash for which nature has no need.
Daily we can all do a little to improve water quality. As paddlers, we can keep a bit of room in our boats to stow those pieces of polystyrene, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans we find floating when we’re out. As anglers, we can make sure we pick up our gear and not abandon line and lures on the banks of our fishing spots. We can all secure that trash in our truck beds so it doesn’t fly out and find a new home along a roadway that eventually leads to a brook, to a creek, to a lake.
As citizens of the larger towns and cities in the region we can keep our wetlands protected and use fertilizers, pesticides, and cleaning products wisely.
We can all try to be eyes on the environment that see the issues and then bring those concerns to someone that can help.