New Project Maps High-Polluted Section Of Lake Champlain To Help Fight Runoff

May 30, 2016

The Missisquoi River basin is one of the most polluted sections in Lake Champlain, consistently failing to meet pollution limits. Now, a Franklin County project is developing new detailed forest maps to identify roads that might be contributing to phosphorus runoff.

The conservation group Cold Hollow to Canada is teaming up with researchers from the University of Vermont to find previously unmapped roads in forest lands. They're using LIDAR data, which is gathered by flying over land, shooting down laser beams and recording their bounce-back reflections to get a detailed measure of the land features below.

Bridget Butler is the program director of Cold Hollow to Canada. She says that LIDAR catches valuable details for their mapping project.

"What’s great about the LIDAR is it can detect certain things like damage to roadways, and where erosion is occurring—and that info then can be mapped," said Butler.

Next, researchers will "ground truth" the maps by walking the land to see if the hotspots of erosion and road steepness the LIDAR identified are indeed happening on the ground.

The pilot project is working with landowners covering a total of 2,000 acres in Enosburg.

New EPA pollution limits require reducing the amount of phosphorus runoff from forests by 60 percent. But to do this officials need to first identify where the runoff is coming from.