Downstream

When it comes to the health of Vermont waters, we’re all downstream. But tackling pollution isn’t a simple fix. From roofs and roads to forests and farms, many sources contribute to water pollution. In this series, we take an in-depth look at the sources — and the solutions.

Interactive Database: Vermont's Lake Champlain Cleanup, Explained

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.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

When rain mixed with snowmelt last week in Rutland, the resulting flows overloaded the city's storm water and sewer system. More than 100,000 gallons of untreated storm water and sewage poured into local creeks. State and local officials are trying to stop overflows like this, but there are few simple solutions.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

As public officials and local communities prepare to roll out the state's new water quality policies, a group of programmers and educators is working to grow public interest and understanding of what data from the lake can tell us.

Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Under the new Vermont Clean Water Law, cities and towns will be required to apply for a permit to verify that paved and unpaved roads are maintained to prevent stormwater runoff.

Kathleen Masterson / VPR

As many Vermonters know all too well, catastrophic floods have become increasingly frequent in the state. In many cases, they devastate homes, roads and farms.

Green Mountain Power/Google Maps

In addition to making milk, Vermont’s dairy cows create a lot of manure. And what to do with that waste can sometimes be a challenge.

jtyler / iStock.com

With the passing of Vermont’s Clean Water Act last year, the state has made a serious commitment to tackle the pollution problems plaguing Lake Champlain.

But less well known are recent major updates to the pollution data that’s the guiding force dictating just how much runoff the state needs to cut back.    

Márcio Cabral de Moura / via Flickr

More than 1,200 dams hold up rivers, creeks and streams across Vermont. Some, built over a century ago, are relics of another time when Vermont ran on mills, logging and small-scale hydro power.

Currently only 80 of the state's dams are actively used for hydropower or flood control. Far more are no longer serving any purpose at all. About 200 of these so-called “deadbeat dams” are, to critics, deteriorating and reducing habitat for fish and hampering recreational activities for humans.

Alford et al. / Lake Scientist

While much discussion of water pollution in Vermont focuses on excessive nutrients, there’s another problem pollutant in our waters. 

Tiny bits of plastic – coming from everyday sources such as degraded plastic bags and flecks of fleece jackets – are seeping into Lake Champlain. Often smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, the plastics may seem inconsequential, but scientists say they carry chemicals, are being eaten by fish and moving up the food chain.    

Kathleen Masterson / VPR

One of the challenges to stemming the flow of pollution into Lake Champlain is that so much of runoff comes from disparate sources across the vast watershed. And one source of water pollution is hidden-in-plain-sight: roads.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

Even as state and federal officials direct new money and staffing to water quality efforts across the state, the networks of pipes that bring water to and from Vermont homes and businesses are crumbling beneath their feet.

Kathleen Masterson / VPR

Vermont’s small farms have always been subject to state clean water standards, but now the state’s near 7,000 small farms are facing a new reality: farm inspections.

Vermont Department of Health

The hot and humid dog days of summer are usually perfect swimming weather — but that’s not true in St. Albans Bay.

Toby Talbot / AP

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Vermont state government released new targets for reducing pollution in Lake Champlain and a detailed plan for how the state would reach those targets. But the plan is already attracting some criticism.

State officials hope that Clean Water Week, which starts on Aug. 21, will celebrate Vermont waterways and the efforts underway to clean them up.
Ric Cengeri / VPR/file

The state of Vermont and the EPA are collaborating on a 20-year plan to reduce the phosphorus running into Lake Champlain by more thirty percent. That includes federal lake pollution targets and the state's plan for how to get to those goals.

We're looking at the new targets, the plan to hit them, and whether it will all be enough to keep the lake clean for coming generations.

Jon Gilbert Fox / Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

The blue-green algae blooms invading Lake Champlain this summer can cause nasty stomach problems and skin irritation — and even liver damage in people who accidentally swallow the water. But researchers say there might be longer-term health consequences for people who come into contact with the blooms. 

Kathleen Masterson / VPR

About 40 percent of the nutrients that run off into Lake Champlain come from farms. But surprisingly, about half that manure produced in the state actually comes from small farms. In the case of dairies, that’s defined as operations with fewer than 200 cows.

Angela Evancie / VPR File

More than two-thirds of the problematic phosphorus overload in Lake Champlain comes from Vermont. To clean up its act the state recently signed Act 64, the Vermont Clean Water Act. It tackles runoff coming from sources varying from roofs and roads to forests and farms.