Study indicates Burlington Bay still faces pollution threat

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(Host) A five-year study of Lake Champlain’s Burlington Bay shows the water meets state standards, but that storm water pollution remains a major threat.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) University of Vermont researchers announced the results of their five-year study at the Burlington community boathouse. As if on cue, a loon paddled by just after UVM Professor Mary Watzin told the audience that the lake’s most urban harbor is generally healthy.

That’s the good news. The bad news, says Watzin, is that storm water continues to pollute the bay, despite the city’s fifty-million dollar investment in new water quality treatment.

(Watzin) “And what we did find is a bit troubling – that there are always high concentrations of phosphorus in those storm water discharges. Phosphorus is a nutrient that stimulates algae growth. And there are almost always high concentrations of coliform bacteria in those discharges. And that’s the thing that causes problems for safe swimming in those shoreline areas.”

(Dillon) Watzin and her team looked at phosphorus pollution, invasive species, toxic chemicals and aquatic life in the bay.

Researchers focused on blue-green algae, which in high concentrations can be toxic. In 1999, a dog died after drinking lake water near Burlington. That raised concerns that the algae could threaten the drinking water supply for tens of thousands of people in and around Burlington. Watzin says the risk is negligible.

(Watzin) “The incidences of toxic blooms has actually declined in Burlington Bay over the last several years. We had a couple of incidences in 1999 and 2000. The last couple of years, we haven’t had toxic blooms here in Burlington Bay.”

(Dillon) There are eight sites around the harbor where storm water flows directly into the lake. Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle says more work needs to be done to done. But he says the situation is much better than fifteen years ago, when city beaches were often closed in the summer.

Watzin says everyone has to be part of the stormwater solution.

(Watzin)” The problem with storm water management is a problem of individual behavior. If we can prevent the pollutants from getting into the run-off, that’s how we solve the problem. So it’s public outreach. It’s getting everybody to do their part, from industry to individual behavior.”

(Dillon) The $1 million dollar research project was funded by Green Mountain Power, as part of an agreement related to the clean up of the Burlington Barge Canal. The barge canal is an old industrial area near the lake that was declared a Superfund toxic waste site in 1982.

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

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