All efforts to improve the water quality of the Memphremagog Watershed and consequently, beautiful Lake Memphremagog should be applauded.
Everyone enjoying, using, and admiring the Lake and the surrounding watershed has the responsibility and the ability to enhance the water quality.
Understanding both the science of the issues challenging water quality and the solutions that have been put in place or are available for long term improvement will help in this mission.
Clean and healthy water now and in the future is the common goal and can only be achieved by working together with a shared awareness.
Recently a petition requesting that Lake Memphremagog be designated a Lake in Crisis has been circulating.
For the complete legislation see: https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/10/047 subchapter 2A section 1310 thru 1315.
Adopted in 2017 by the Vermont State Legislature, the only lake receiving this designation is Lake Carmi where a long history of poor water quality and related cyanobacteria blooms has led to many negative impacts on the Lake community in Franklin, including property devaluation, and environmental challenges.
In early February, the Memphremagog Watershed Association (MWA) Board discussed applying for such designation.
After careful consideration, it was determined that 1) it does not fit Lake Memphremagog’s circumstances, 2) it would most likely not provide significant new funding sources for supporting major water quality initiatives, and 3) the public perception downside / unintended consequences of the designation would certainly outweigh any gains.
As described in Title 10 subchapter 002A.1310 of the law, one of the criteria to meet the designation is a decline in real estate values.
This does not appear to be the case on Lake Memphremagog as it appears that properties held or increased in value.
As noted in the Lake in Crisis Statute, the Secretary shall only designate a lake as a lake in crisis if, among other requirements, it can be determined that “…a municipality in which the lake or a portion of the lake is located has reduced the valuation of real property due to the condition of the lake.”
The Basin 17 Tactical Basin Plan for the Memphremagog Watershed has provided a roadmap for identifying water quality initiatives and a framework for funding water quality improvement initiatives.
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will soon launch the update and review process for the Basin 17 Plan.
This review will include an evaluation of progress made and future needs for restoring and protecting the quality of waters in the Lake Memphremagog watershed.
As this process moves forward public review and comment will be solicited.
Lake Memphremagog’s working landscape of historic industrial heritage, farmlands, developed land, and transient watercraft has contributed to water quality challenges.
Reversals of some of these challenges is gradual but the steady progress that has been occurring over the years is due to the engagement of many local and regional stakeholders.
Despite these challenges, the Lake is enjoyed by locals, visitors, and our Canadian neighbors for boating, fishing, swimming, and admiring.
In addition, some Canadian municipal water departments use Lake Memphremagog as a reservoir.
Water used from the Lake is treated at municipal water treatment facilities in compliance with Canadian and Quebec safe drinking water standards.
Concerning the issue of PFAS and PFOAs, MWA put together a panel discussion on PFAS and PFOAs one and a half years ago that provided valuable and scientific research and supporting information.
A panel of experts on the environmental transport of the contaminant was assembled with a presentation and a Q&A period.
The discussion informed the audience that PFAS and PFOAs are ubiquitous in the environment because of over 70 years of widespread use.
The panel also noted that there are both localized sources and atmospheric deposition which has transported these chemicals as far as the Arctic.
A video of this presentation can be viewed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7qjIg60Fic.
Fish and Wildlife’s research on the brown bullhead tumors has been presented by Pete Emerson to the Quebec/Vermont Steering Committee for Lake Memphremagog.
Vermont Fish and Wildlife requested and supported research by a world-renowned expert in this field, Dr. Viki Blazer of the US Geological Survey Department (USGS).
A relevant quote from Dr. Blazer’s research is provided below:
Scientists on the USGS Fishing and Hunting and Immunomodulation Science Teams are continuing to
develop and test hypotheses to address key questions about the interactions between pathogen and
toxicant exposures and tumor development in fishes. Identification of the actual risk factors is
important to prioritize mitigation and minimize risk to fish, wildlife, and humans.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and DEC followed up this research by sampling fish tissue, sediment, and surface water in South Bay, Hospital Cove (Scott’s Cove) and control sites for 60 analytes including Pesticides, PCBs, Priority Metals and PAHs (found in skin care products) to try to identify a potential cause of lesions.
This information was presented at an informational press conference given by Julie Moore, ANR Secretary and is available on ANR’s Facebook feed.
The results of the fish tissue analysis do not indicate the need for fish consumption advisories, but the presentation noted that the causation of recent observations of brown bullhead lesions is currently unknown, however, it is known that pollutants such as PAHs and metals can be a factor.
Ultra-Violet (UV) radiation (photo- induced toxicity) may be playing a role in both Hospital Cove and South Bay due to shallow waters that are potentially at greater risk of UV-induced toxicity.
The Agency is continuing to investigate the cause of the melanoma tumors.
Currently, there is a 2-year moratorium on the Newport wastewater plant accepting any leachate.
The leachate program cannot resume without evaluation and permitting in accordance with Vermont State rules and regulations, which are currently more stringent than the Federal rules for PFOA/POFS.
Simultaneously, alternative methods of leachate disposal are being explored.
Northeast Kingdom geology prevents some common disposal options such as spreading leachate on fields.
Specific to the existence of the landfill, one question that has not been adequately addressed is waste reduction of individual waste streams, thus reducing the landfill footprint and an associated reduction in leachate and any other potential contaminant migration.
Addressing this question should be a collaborative effort by all individuals, interested groups, and industry.
Making changes and supporting new State rules and initiatives will make a state-wide difference on a variety of different levels.
MWA has been actively working, with numerous partners, over the past 14 years, to address water quality threats to Lake Memphremagog including, reducing phosphorus and other stormwater pollutants, addressing aquatic invasive species in the Lake and across the watershed, as well as recognizing and addressing other water quality threats.
Specific accomplishments have included designing and installing stormwater treatment practices, supporting aquatic invasive spread prevention and control efforts across the watershed, working with partners to restore stream and lakeshore buffers to filter runoff, and engaging local school students in understanding the threats to water quality so they can take actions at home.
MWA is excited and encouraged to note the recent support of so many people for restoring the quality of Lake Memphremagog.
We welcome the many who have expressed this interest to join with the Association and the numerous watershed partners in doing this challenging work of improving water quality.
Broad community support is needed to embolden landowners to address pollutant sources on their properties and provide the technical and funding support to accomplish projects like the Prouty Beach restoration completed this past summer by MWA.
Lake Memphremagog is a treasure and safe for fishing, swimming, boating and just viewing which contributes to the wellbeing of our communities both aesthetically and economically.
Partnerships that want to enhance these benefits in a collaborative manner will help all of us in accomplishing the long-term goal of making our beautiful waters even better.
Thank you for joining in the cause of water quality,
The Memphremagog Watershed Board of Directors