Warning – Our Lake is Toxic


“Mixed condition. Watch and avoid cyanobacteria blooms.” This is the warning posted on the Vermont Department of Health’s website for Lake Champlain.

Photo: LightHawk

Photo: LightHawk

When I read about beach closures, such as the one last Thursday at one of Burlington’s most popular beaches, I feel outraged, dumbfounded, horrified. How could we have let it get so far out of hand? When did it become acceptable for us to live with toxic water?

Just one day before the beach closure, I had the privilege of flying over Lake Champlain with a volunteer pilot from LightHawk – a survey mission to snap shots of the lake and check out conditions. From the air, it’s easy to spot the healthy segments that take your breath away with the deepest blue water.

Of course, I also saw the sickly segments, the overdeveloped shoreline, the farms a stone’s throw from the water, and the paper mill towering over the southern section. All of these land uses impact our lake’s health.

And this is just the beginning of the cyanobacteria season. As August approaches, conditions will only worsen. The “mixed condition” warning will spike to high alert in some portions of Lake Champlain.

With no buffers between farms and the lake, fertilizer and other pollution drains into the water. Photo: LightHawk

With no buffers between farms and the lake, fertilizer and other pollution drains into the water. Photo: LightHawk

Part of the problem stems from fertilizers and manure running off of farms. These nutrients are chock full of phosphorus – the main culprit of the toxic cyanobacteria blooms that cause beach closures across Lake Champlain’s shoreline each summer.

Last week, CLF sent a letter to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture urging strict agricultural standards be implemented throughout the basin. Our letter included commonsense recommendations such as keeping cows and horses out of streams and requiring “no touch” zones between farmland and waterways to buffer our water from human activities.

We don’t have to live with toxic water. CLF is working with farmers, developers, and cities and towns throughout the Lake Champlain basis to make sure that the waters we all love are safe and healthy for all.

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