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Testing and Beach Closures
In the summer months, water at many public beaches is tested for fecal coliform and/or E. coli. (Fecal coliform and E. coli are two different measures of the presence of bacteria from fecal sources. Fecal coliform is the name for the large group of bacteria from fecal sources whereas E. coli is an indicator whose presence is strongly correlated with the presence of pathogens.) Public beaches are typically closed when sampling shows high coliform levels. Swimmers at private beaches and other popular swimming areas that are not tested should use caution after heavy rainfalls.
In New York and Vermont, the health protective level of E. coli bacteria in recreational water is 235 colony-forming units (organisms, or CFUs) per 100 milliliters of swimming water for a single sample. For Québec, this limit is 200 CFUs per 100 ml. The New York Department of Health also as regulations for fecal coliform at bathing beaches. The fecal coliform density from a series of five or more samples in any 30-day period shall not exceed a logarithmic mean of 200 CFUs per 100 ml. When any sample exceeds 1,000 colonies per 100 ml, consideration will be given to closing the beach. The presence of any fecal coliform in drinking water is cause for concern and requires immediate action.
Water quality at many beaches and swimming areas around Lake Champlain is tested regularly during the summer months.
- Burlington Beaches – Water is tested on Mondays and Thursdays; if positive additional tests. Beach closures will be posted on the Burlington Parks and Recreation website and at the beach.
- Red Rocks Beach, S. Burlington – Water is tested on Mondays and Wednesdays.
- Colchester Beaches – Water at Bayside tested two times/week.
- Shelburne Beach – Water is tested twice a week; if positive, daily until safe. Call 985-9551 for more info.
- VT State Parks – Water is tested on Mondays. Link to VT State Parks.
- Québec Beaches
- Mad River Watch (Mad River Valley Swim Holes)
- See our Cyanobacteria Advisories and Report page for information about advisories and beach closures resulting from cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms.
- View reports of sewage overflows and incidents in Vermont.
The majority of beach closures on Lake Champlain are the result of high coliform bacteria. Cyanobacteria blooms caused extended beach closures on Missisquoi Bay in Québec between 2008 and 2011. It can take up to two days for sample analyses to be completed, so the worst of conditions often pass before results are available. Swimmers should avoid areas where streams enter the Lake for 24 hours after intense rainstorms. If the water looks or smells suspicious, it is best to stay out.
Beach closure contact information:
The Field Guide to Aquatic Phenomena by the Maine DEP and the University of Maine is a public-friendly guide to understanding what causes different things we see on lakes, such as foam, algae and water quality changes.
More about beach closures
For more about the “State” of public bathing beaches in Lake Champlain, please visit the “Is it Safe to Swim in Lake Champlain” page of our State of the Lake report.
Learn more about the “Response” of LCBP and partners to reduce beach closures and reduce pathogens in Lake Champlain, please visit the “Reducing Toxic Substances and Pathogens” section of the Lake Champlain management plan Opportunities for Action.
For additional maps and information, please visit the Lake Champlain Basin Atlas.