EPA awards nearly $4.4M to restore Lake Champlain, protect against algal blooms

Nov. 21, 2017
Funding awarded to Vermont, New York, and New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission on behalf of the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

BOSTON, MA, NEW YORK, NY, NOV 21, 2017 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $4,395,000 in Lake Champlain restoration funding to help address outbreaks of harmful algal blooms and the spread of invasive species in Lake Champlain. The funding was awarded to the state of Vermont, state of New York; and New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), on behalf of the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

With a record-setting heat wave hitting the region in September, cyanobacteria blooms arose along many shoreline locations and public beaches in Lake Champlain and surrounding waterbodies. Cyanobacteria are a concern because they sometimes release toxins that can make people and pets sick.

"Lake Champlain is a natural jewel enjoyed by both area residents and visitors alike. Tourism, boating and recreational fishing stimulate economic growth in local communities, but algal blooms have been a persistent problem that greatly impacts people's abilities to enjoy all that this national treasure has to offer," said Pete Lopez, EPA Administrator for Region 2. "Not only will EPA's funding have a positive impact on local communities, but it will assist property owners, businesses and farmers on the New York side join in the effort to restore and protect the quality of lake water by reducing harmful phosphorus runoff."

"The recent algal blooms resulting in closed public swimming beaches illustrate the need for continued action to restore the health of Lake Champlain. EPA's funding will help address the sources of pollution, monitor the lake and alert the public when unsafe conditions are found," said Deb Szaro, EPA Acting Administrator for Region 1.

EPA awarded VT DEC with $525,978 and NYSDEC with $365,000 to: assist with water quality monitoring and trend analysis, monitor for cyanotoxins in lake water, help notify public health officials and water treatment operators if conditions pose a risk to public health, coordinate restoration activities, control the spread of invasive water chestnut, conduct lake shoreline assessments, stabilize and reduce phosphorus released by erosion; and support a database used to track the extent of agricultural conservation practices installed to reduce phosphorus loading to the lake.

"The support provided by EPA through the LCBP is vital for our water quality testing programs and pollution reduction projects." said Emily Boedecker, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. "With these funds, the Department is able to pursue our work to improve water quality in Lake Champlain and the Basin, while providing timely information on water quality conditions and cyanobacteria blooms to citizens and visitors alike."

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Basil Seggos said, "DEC welcomes funding for these important programs that protect water quality and public health across this important watershed and are restoring the Lake Champlain Basin to its former grandeur."

EPA awarded NEIWPCC with $3,504,022 to continue support for the Lake Champlain Basin Program:

The Lake Champlain Basin Program operates in both Vermont and New York. It has developed a localized guide for managing the restoration of Lake Champlain into the future, including specific goals for clean water, healthy habitats, thriving communities and dissemination of public information.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program also brings partners together to share information and coordinate activities aimed at restoring the lake's water quality.

Activities to reduce pollution and invasive species include: assistance to New York farmers, support of boat launch stewards, research projects aimed at reducing phosphorus and other pollution sources, outreach and education; and management of a small grant program that is used to support local towns and other organizations to carry out lake restoration activities.

"This funding support from the US Environmental Protection Agency is crucial to the ongoing restoration effort in the Lake Champlain watershed. A clean Lake Champlain will support a healthy ecosystem as well as the regional economy," said Dr. Eric Howe, Director of the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

EPA funding has supported a long-term water quality monitoring program on Lake Champlain since 1992 that has collected water chemistry and biological information to inform management decisions for Lake Champlain. This program has operated in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program / NEIWPCC, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and SUNY Plattsburgh.

EPA funding to the Lake Champlain Basin Program is used to support more than 100 volunteers who regularly sample the lake's shoreline. Trained staff and volunteers collect samples and make observations of lake conditions from late May into September each year. Results of these observations and quality assured data are shared with the public in near-real time via a tracker website hosted by the Vermont Department of Health.

Lake Champlain stretches 120 miles long and 12 miles wide and is located in the States of New York and Vermont and the Province of Quebec. It is an iconic waterbody that provides drinking water to 188,000 people. It supports many recreation opportunities and generates nearly $4 billion in annual revenue. Harmful algal blooms stemming from excess nutrients, such as phosphorus, are a severe concern in Lake Champlain. Algal blooms negatively impact beaches, reduce recreation, garner negative travel press, and threaten drinking water supplies. The lake also suffers from the introduction of non-native aquatic invasive species like water chestnut and zebra mussel that harm fisheries, clog drinking water intakes, and create unsafe swimming conditions.

Since the Lake Champlain Basin Program was established under the Clean Water Act in 1990, EPA has partnered with Vermont, New York, Quebec, university scientists, and the Lake Champlain Basin Program (hosted by NEIWPCC) to protect and improve water quality; maintain diverse communities of fish, wildlife and plants; prevent the introduction while limiting the spread of non-native aquatic invasive species; and improve the lake's resiliency to changing weather patterns.