As an advocate, convener, and watchdog, Rebekah Weber plays a unique role in helping to protect and restore Vermont’s most iconic landmark – and all of the state’s waters.
What drew you to Lake Champlain?
I became interested in water issues through their connection to the food system. Growing up, my family always paid attention to where our food came from and how agriculture impacts the environment. My mother kept a garden, and I was fascinated to learn all of her home remedies for developing healthy soils. Later, when I worked on farm policies at the federal level, it was impossible to ignore the inherent conflicts our food system has created with sustainably managing our natural resources.
I was drawn to work on Lake Champlain because of the intricate role it plays in Vermont’s food web. While the lake is an important resource – for drinking water, tourism, and recreation – it is also part of an agricultural framework that concerns many Vermonters. Protecting the lake, while also promoting sustainable uses for the surrounding lands, serves as a model for communities across New England.
What do you like most about your work?
I collaborate every day with a range of individuals and communities throughout the watershed – from farmers and business owners to elementary school kids and retired fishermen. It’s heartening to see all Vermonters take ownership of this challenge and fight to clean up our lake.
What is the biggest concern you hear from Vermonters about their water?
The saddest stories to me are from Vermonters who remember what it was like to swim and play in Lake Champlain growing up, but who now warn their kids to stay away from the water. They’re concerned because they never know when it’s a safe day for the lake and when the levels of bacteria and toxins are too high. It’s not something parents should have to add to their list of worries. But, unfortunately, we’ve allowed our lake to become polluted from the way we use our landscape – how we treat our sewage, farm our land, and build our cities is impacting the health of our lake.
What are the biggest issues impacting the lake today?
A big challenge facing Lake Champlain is the overabundance of nutrients, such as phosphorus, entering the lake. While nutrients may not seem like a bad thing, problems arise when there are too many of them. Phosphorus running off of farm fields, parking lots, roads, and eroded stream banks stimulates an overgrowth of algae, including the toxic blue-green algae. Algal blooms have caused human sickness, beach closures, and dog deaths; they’ve lowered property values and resulted in lost business. As the algae decomposes, it sucks up oxygen, leaving behind dead zones – areas where fish and other wildlife cannot survive.
Are you making progress?
We were successful last year at setting limits for how much phosphorus pollution can enter Lake Champlain. Now that we’ve established a cap, we’re working with farmers, developers, cities and towns, and the State to implement best management practices on farm fields, treat stormwater runoff from our developed landscape, upgrade wastewater treatment facilities, and conserve sensitive lands.
Keep up with Rebekah and CLF’s work to clean up Lake Champlain.