ST. ALBANS — Algal blooms in local lakes have grown ever more visible and smelly as the month continues, causing an outcry for action.
Currently, there is no statewide program or federal funding specifically aimed at prevention or management of algal blooms. The Vermont Department of Health (DOH), however, does provide a website and community resources to educate the public about blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria.
According to the DOH website, lakes in Franklin County are currently of particular concern – an Aug. 14 update on the website’s “lake conditions and blue-green algae updates” page listed St. Albans Bay, Missisquoi Bay, and Lake Carmi as areas with possible or definite high-alert conditions where people should be watch for algal blooms.
The site also said any people and animals should avoid contact with the phosphorus-fed cyanobacteria accumulations, which have been linked to death in animals and gastro-intestinal illness in humans.
On Tuesday, state health officials found an algae bloom at the day-use beach in Lake Carmi State Park in Franklin. An e-mail forwarded to the Messenger from the Dept. Of Health’s Radiological and Toxicological Sciences Program indicated that if the bloom grew, the beach would have to be closed.
In the meantime, a sign was put up alerting swimmers to watch for any blooms, which tend to move quite rapidly.
In addition, Franklin Town Health Officer Polly Gadbois said on Wednesday that she would be testing Lake Carmi’s North Beach this morning for blooms.
Highgate Town Clerk Wendi Dusablon said yesterday she was not aware of areas in Missisquoi Bay being closed to public access due to algal blooms. “I haven’t heard anything,” she said.
St. Albans Town Health Officer Dave McWilliams said at a recent selectboard meeting that the St. Albans Bay Town beach was closed due to algal blooms, and according to Town Manager Carrie Johnson, the beach had not re-opened as of Wednesday afternoon.
Though waterfront along Georgia Shore Road – including the Georgia Recreation Park – has not been closed according to town officials, a visit on Tuesday showed shoreline waters that were a murky blue-green color with white and blue blooms, resembling spilled paint, floating on the water.
A sign has been put up at the Georgia recreation park as a precaution.
Other shorelines and popular swimming or boating spots can be checked for algal blooms and their safety status on the Dept. of Health’s online Blue Green Algae Tracker, which can be found at: webmail.vdh.state.vt.us/vttracking/bluegreenalgae/d/.
Whether various shorelines are open or closed for public use around the county, residents are noticing the increasing pattern of colorful, odorous water and are looking for something to be done about it.
St. Albans residents at a meeting Tuesday regarding zoning regulations for St. Albans Bay (see this Saturday’s paper for full story) spent a portion of the meeting discussing how many algal blooms have appeared this year, and the need for real, concrete action in the bay and beyond.
“We’ve got to stop the pollution to cure the problem,” said resident and selectboard member Bruce Cheeseman, referring to a reductionin the nutrientsgoing into the bay that help weeds and algal blooms grow. “This is a drum that can’t stop beating.”
Steve Cushing, president of St. Albans Area Watershed Association (SAAWA) and lifelong resident of St. Albans, said by phone this morning that he and other SAAWA volunteers have noticed that weeds and blooms are worse this year than ever before. He added that serious state action is needed to address local water bodies and their pollutants, not just volunteer efforts.
“The process is really accumulating – what’s happening in the St. Albans Bay and Missisquoi Bay,” said Cushing. “If you’re on a selectboard or if you’re a [state] representative, you can’t duck this anymore.”
He added, “You’ve got to come up with a plan. You can’t rely on voluntary efforts anymore.”
Brad Ferland, who has a camp on St. Albans Bay, sent photos of algae to the Messenger earlier this week. He wrote, “It’s gross, be it Carmi or Champlain. It’s at a crisis level and should be treated as such. Not unlike a hurricane, we need emergency management.”
Another local resident and Messenger contributing photographer, George Ouellette of Highgate, talked about the view from his camp on Duck Point on the eastern shore of the Missisquoi Bay in a note to the newspaper. “Notably missing are the scores of campers and residents out enjoying the waters on Lake Champlain,” Ouellette wrote. “We need help to clean up our lake.”
Also missing, said Cushing, is apparent concern from Gov. Peter Shumlin and other Vermont politicians.
“It just seems like the State of Vermont is taking no action on this at all,” he said. “[Gov. Shumlin] has no passion for cleaning up Lake Champlain – that’s what it seems like to me.”
Bob Weeks, a Georgia resident, also sent the Messenger photos and a letter explaining his consternation with the apparent lack of reaction from legislators on the issue.
“How much longer do we have to suffer the inaction…?” he asked.