A new state program will monitor and test all 22 drinking water systems that pull water from Lake Champlain, with a focus on detecting blue-green algae blooms.
Algae blooms are visible to the naked eye, but testing is the only way to know if toxins are present in Lake Champlain, which is the drinking water source for about 150,000 Vermonters.
In previous summers state officials only tested water if blue-green algae was reported near a drinking water intake. This summer's 12-week program is the first effort to routinely test water once a week.
“After last summer when we saw the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, become impacted by a blue-green alga toxin, there’s been a lot more focus on trying to understand if that’s possible here,” said Sarah Vose, the state toxicologist with the Vermont Department of Health.
Officials want to know what kinds of toxins present in both raw lake water and the finished drinking water.
If any weekly test results show levels of blue-green algae toxins above the health advisory level, officials would recommend that people in that region not drink their water.
The Vermont Department of Health also plans to immediately update their online blue-green algae tracker map of Lake Champlain. The tracker labels clean waters areas in green, and sections with dangerous levels of algae in red.
Vose says while not all algae blooms produce toxins, these so-called blue-green algae are actually bacteria.
“Some bacteria have different chemicals inside of their cells, or on outside of their cells, that can make your skin red or itchy or cause a rash.”
Vose says the health department does encourage people and pets to stay out of the water if they see any blue-green algae present.