Water quality takes center stage, Vermont House votes to ban microbeads, the next invaders, ice volcanoes, and more!

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Lake Champlain Committee

January Ripples E-news

Water Quality Takes Center Stage in Montpelier

Water quality improvements for Lake Champlain were a central theme when Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin stepped to the podium to deliver his inaugural address on January 8th. The Governor called for increased accountability for farm pollution and the establishment of a clean water fund that would provide increased funding for water quality projects. These are measures LCC has long advocated. The proposals have been put together in bill H. 35 and details will be hashed out in a variety of House and Senate committees throughout the legislative session.

LCC will closely track the progress of this bill as it wends its way through the statehouse. We will be working to ensure the bill retains an effective funding mechanism for the necessary programs, continues to provide appropriate regulatory authority to state agencies, and provides necessary technical assistance to make progress on our water quality goals. MORE

Vermont House Votes to Ban Microbeads

Earlier this week the Vermont House unanimously approved H.4, a bill to ban the manufacture and sale of harmful plastic microbeads from personal care products and over the counter drugs. These plastic beads are problematic because they wash down drains, slip through wastewater treatment plants and end up in our waterways. Fish feed on this plastic junk food, mistaking the tiny beads for fish eggs. The plastics attract waterborne toxins which can be passed up the food chain to fish, wildlife and ultimately humans. Scientists have found high concentrations of plastics in U.S. waterbodies. MORE

The Next Invaders

The spiny water flea arrived in Lake Champlain last summer, becoming the 51st invasive species in the lake. We know it won’t be the last. Recently, a group of environmental professionals discussed what species posed the greatest risk of being the next arrival. Three likely candidates were round goby, hydrilla, and VHS.

Round goby are fish native to the Caspian and Black Sea regions. They were introduced to the Great Lakes probably from a ship's discharged ballast water, and first found in North America in 1990 in the St. Clair River. MORE

LCC Featured in Video on Lake Shore Erosion


Since 2011 the region has made considerable investments in preparing for future floods. We all want to be more resilient when disasters like Tropical Storm Irene or the lake flooding of 2011 come about. Agencies, municipalities, and individuals have engaged in education about tools for developing in safer places, protecting the functions of watersheds, and adapting critical infrastructure for future flood events. To further that goal, LCC collaborated with the Connecticut River Watershed Council to produce a short video on lakefront erosion solutions. The piece was one of a series of videos designed to help communities prepare for and minimize flood damage and qualify for post-disaster funding.

Microcystin – How Much Is Too Much?


Last August a blue-green algae bloom over the water treatment intake for Toledo, Ohio caused the city to test for the presence of microcystin, a toxin produced by some blue-green algae species. They found more than 1 part per billion of microcystin in the finished water, with concentrations peaking at about 2.5 parts per billion over the next two days. However, there are no federal standards for how much microcystin is allowable in water. Toledo told their residents not to drink or boil the water coming from their taps. MORE

Lessons from the Flood – Floodplain Development Puts Communities at Risk


The flooding from Tropical Storm Irene made tangible the community costs that can occur when landowners develop floodplains. Homes and structures built too close to the water washed away becoming dangerous projectiles and in some cases damaging bridges or downstream properties. In the third installment from LCC’s Lessons from the Flood, we urge community planners and elected officials to develop strong regulations preventing floodplain development, and provide an abundance of examples of how failure to restrict such development enhanced the storm's damage. MORE

Nature Note – Ice Volcanoes


While skating along the flat clear ice of Mallets Bay four or five years ago, Jamie Leopold noticed a geyser of water shooting straight up into the air – 30 to 50 feet high. He may have witnessed a particularly large ice volcano. Ice volcanos form along the shores of lakes near the ice front. On windy days waves crashing at the front and freezing create a raised rim. Irregularities along the edge can concentrate waves and direct return water flow and spray patterns. Waves spurt through any cracks or holes in the ice sheet. The water molecules freeze as they land and a cone begins to form. As more water spurts through the cone it continues to grow. MORE

Stay Safe on the Ice

On January 21 a truck went through the ice on the banks of Fort Ticonderoga. Luckily both the driver and passenger made it out safely but the vehicle is at the bottom of the lake. It's now the driver's responsibility to get the truck out of the water or face a fine. The chart below provides some guidance on necessary ice thickness for various activities but there is no such thing as "safe ice".

The safety of ice varies depending on a combination of factors including,thickness, temperatures over a period of time and on the day, depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, local weather fluctuations, and the extent of the ice. Ice on a given water body doesn’t freeze or thaw at a uniform rate. It can be thick in one spot and dangerously thin only a few steps away. New ice is usually much stronger than old ice. Direct freezing of still water makes stronger ice than that formed by melting snow, refrozen ice, or ice made by water bubbling up through cracks and freezing on the surface. Clear blue/black ice is stronger than milky white ice. Ice near the shore is weakest. The shifting, expansion and buckling action of the lake or stream over the winter continually breaks and refreezes ice along the shoreline. Protruding logs, brush, or docks can absorb heat from the sun and weaken the surrounding ice. Read more tips on ice safety.

Other Lake News from Near and Far

Coming Clean on Lake Champlain

Learn more about the plan Vermont's Governor Shumlin and state agencies are outlining to protect and improve water quality in this panel discussion hosted by the Champlain Valley League of Women Voters. Panelists include David Mears, Commissioner Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation; Chittenden County Senators Ginny Lyons and Diane Snelling, and Lake Champlain Committee Executive Director Lori Fisher.

Algae Blooms Can Increase, Not Just Respond To, Nutrient Levels

It is well known that high levels of nutrients in the water promote algae blooms, but new research suggests that the presence of blue-green algae can also lead to higher nutrient levels. Researchers working in Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire, a low nutrient lake that experiences regular blooms, found that blue-green algae are particularly good at harvesting nitrogen and phosphorus from sediments and bottom waters thus increasing the availability of these nutrients in the water column. The effects of this deserve more attention, the researchers suggest, because climate change is also driving an increase in algae blooms, particularly in lakes where they were not prevalent historically.

Wisconsin Farms Reduce Water Pollution Without Affecting Their Bottom Line

Long-time lake advocates often get frustWrated with the slow progress in reducing pollution loading. Sometimes people wonder if all the money invested in farm conservation practices ever lead to a reduction in pollution. It can, at least according to research coming out of Wisconsin. A seven-year project there implemented conservation practices such as reduced tillage and changes in cropping practices on 10 of 61 farms in a sub-watershed of the Pecatonica River. They targeted the improved practices to high-risk fields. MORE

Courts in Wisconsin and Washington Rule Manure a Pollutant

Two recent court cases support the idea that manure is a pollutant rather than a resource and thus must be managed as waste. On December 30th the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled an appeal court decision and declared that manure contaminating a well is a pollutant. The case was brought to the Supreme Court by the farmer’s insurance company, who was seeking to avoid paying damages for the well contamination. As a result of the ruling, the farmer may be on the hook for any personal or property damage resulting from contamination. MORE

Diabetes Drugs in Lake Michigan Can Affect Fish

Levels of the diabetes drug metformin in Lake Michigan are high enough to cause hormonal changes in fish. Metformin is the most commonly prescribed drug of its kind for treating type 2 diabetes. There are detectable traces of the drug even two miles off shore from Milwaukee. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee exposed fanhead minnows to levels of the drug equivalent to what was measured in Lake Michigan. After four weeks, the endocrine systems of the fish had been disrupted; males produced female hormones. Researchers concluded that overlooked chemicals like metformin cannot simply be ignored with an assumption that they will dilute to harmless levels in large waterbodies.

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Lake Champlain Committee Board of Directors

Gary Kjelleren - Chair (South Hero, VT), Sharon Murray - Treasurer (Bolton, VT), Alan Booth (Plattsburgh, NY), Sandy Montgomery (Montreal, QC), Ann Ruzow Holland (Willsboro, NY), Hank Slauson (Shelburne, VT), Chuck Woessner (Grand Isle, VT).

Lake Champlain Committee Advisory Council

Megan Epler Wood (Burlington, VT), Steven Kellogg (Essex, NY), Peter S. Paine, Jr. (Willsboro, NY), Mary Watzin (NC).

Lake Champlain Committee Staff

Lori Fisher, Executive Director
Alexa Hachigian, Office Manager
Mike Winslow, Staff Scientist

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