Report indicates pollution still problem for Lake Champlain

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(Host) The water quality in the main body of Lake Champlain remains healthy. But several areas of the big lake are suffering from an overload of pollution that feeds dangerous algae blooms.

These are some of the findings of a report released on Wednesday by the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The basin program report offers both hope and caution about Lake Champlain. The good news says program director Bill Howland, is that much of the big lake is safe for swimming, and that increased research and funding is focused on improving water quality.

But pollution is getting worse in places, despite decades of attention. The big problem is phosphorus, which flows from sewage treatment plants, farm fields, and the dirty run-off from city streets.

(Howland) “In most parts of the lake, phosphorus levels are too high. And in some lake segments it is simply way out of control.”

(Dillon) Phosphorus acts as a fertilizer, and feeds blooms of toxic blue green algae that form almost every summer in several shallow bays.

The basin program, which gets its funds from the federal government, tracked phosphorus levels in various segments of the lake.

(Howland) “And the trends are not good in Missisquoi Bay. They’re not good in Mallet’s Bay. They’re not good in St. Albans Bay. And they’re not good in the Northeast Arm. And we need to know that. These sections of the lake are experiencing increasing levels of phosphorus.”

(Dillon) Other problems include airborne mercury that drifts into the region from coal-fired power plants and other sources. The toxic metal is taken up in the food chain and has led health officials to warn pregnant women about eating fish from the lake.

(Howland) “It’s not getting better and the long term contamination will only be solved when we stop putting more mercury into the lake basin, and we’re not doing that.”

(Dillon) But Howland also tried to strike a note of optimism. He says the deep part of the lake remains clean, and a reliable source of drinking water for many towns.

Years of research have led to a better understanding of its problems, he says. And he points out, there’s now an international effort underway to control pollution.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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