2021 State of the Lake Report Released

NOTE: The 2021 State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators report is now posted on-line: www.lcbp.org/sol2021

Grand Isle, VT – The Lake Champlain Basin Program released the 2021 Lake Champlain State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report today. The report provides an assessment of the condition of Lake Champlain using a series of ecosystem indicators.  The document is produced every three years with input from New York, Québec and Vermont scientists and field experts.  The report provides resource managers and the public with a better understanding of threats to the Lake’s health, as well as opportunities to meet the challenges ahead.

“LCBP uses the best scientific data available to interpret information about the Lake,” said Dr. Eric Howe, Director of the Lake Champlain Basin Program. “In the 2021 report, we provide new details about Lake Champlain’s water quality and the fishery. The battle against aquatic invasive species, the public benefits associated with conserved lands, and the need to have more stewards embedded in the landscape also are important. Lake managers use this information to develop and assess strategies for improving water quality in Lake Champlain.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who works to fund the Basin Program each year, said: “The release of a new State of the Lake Report is always greatly anticipated by lake advocates, public officials, legislators, and the news media.  It is the ‘go-to’ source of information about Lake Champlain for me, for my staff, and for everyone who works for a cleaner, better lake.”

The 2021 report reflects on the status of Lake Champlain in relation to meeting Clean Water Act goals of being drinkable, fishable, and swimmable.  By examining the health of the ecosystem, scientists and local communities can use this information to improve plans to create a stronger stewardship ethic which helps local economies thrive over time.  “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proud to support the work of the Lake Champlain Basin Program. EPA remains committed to working on this multi-state partnership to realize a cleaner and healthier Lake Champlain Basin. Together we’ve made good progress, even as work needs to continue. A healthy and thriving Lake Champlain is vital to residents, communities, and the economy in this iconic basin,” said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deborah Szaro.

Community engagement and recreation opportunities help stakeholders connect with the Lake, and drive their sense of stewardship. For example, the State of the Lake Report summarizes that more than 93,000 watercraft were greeted by boat launch stewards from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and the Adirondack Watershed Institute on Lake Champlain between 2018-2020. Of those, 60% of public launch users reported that they now take personal action to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species.  Even more watercraft users need to step up and remain vigilant about properly decontaminating their gear every time they leave a lake or river. Many species can be transported to and from Lake Champlain easily, potentially wreaking havoc with biodiversity and food webs at every new location they invade.

“EPA is encouraged that this year’s ‘state of the lake’ report shows progress by our partners across the Lake Champlain Basin in reducing the amount of phosphorus entering the lake and addressing invasive species, like water chestnut and zebra mussels,” said EPA Region 2 acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan. “The funding and technical support that EPA provides to partners here in New York exemplifies our commitment to protect and restore Lake Champlain for the many communities and species that depend on the Lake.”

The Lake Champlain Basin Program and its partners will begin to share this important work this summer, including distributing key data to underserved communities and with our neighbors in Québec. The document will be accessible in French on-line this summer.     

“Lake Champlain is an important part of our natural heritage; it is at the heart of the social, economic and cultural life of the citizens of Québec, Vermont and New York,” said Marie-Claude Francoeur, Québec Delegate to New England. The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) is an example of our cross-border collaboration in the management of our shared watersheds for an integrated management of water resources. Québec thanks the LCBP for providing vital information on the state of Lake Champlain, allowing us to precisely assess our ongoing efforts to protect this majestic lake for the benefit of our population.”

Community members complete boots-on-the-ground projects which municipalities, conservation districts, local watershed groups, and others undertake to improve water quality and habitat while preparing for climate change and flood hazards in the future.  By working in partnership with federal, state, and provincial partners, more than 100 local projects designed to improve water quality and ecosystem health are implemented around the Basin with LCBP funds every year.

The importance of conserved lands and the role they play in protecting water quality and habitat, while fostering outdoor recreation opportunities, and providing flood mitigation is highlighted in the 2021 State of the Lake Report as well. “Vermont is fortunate to have one of the largest, most stunning lakes in the United States running along much of the western edge of our state,” said Julie Moore, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. “Lake Champlain is a defining feature of our region in so many ways – through tourism, boating, swimming, transportation, sport fishing and as the drinking water source for hundreds of thousands of local residents. When it comes to caring for the Lake, the 2021 State of the Lake Report is one of our most valuable tools, compiling and sharing the progress made and outlining the work that lies ahead.”

The report, while showing some areas of improvement, acknowledges that there still is more work to do. The region shares goals to reduce the spread of invasive species, improve the habitat of Atlantic salmon and other species through dam removal and river restoration, reduce the sea lamprey population, and decrease phosphorus contributions which help drive cyanobacteria blooms and impact recreational use of the Lake. So too is the strength of local cultural and natural heritage institutions which drive messaging about these issues while supporting the regional tourism economies.   

“For more than three decades, DEC and the Lake Champlain Basin Program have worked together to address water quality and environmental challenges facing Lake Champlain,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. “I join the Lake Champlain Basin Program in celebrating the successes noted in the most recent State of the Lake report, acknowledge the challenges we still face, and look forward to working side-by-side to protect and enhance the environmental integrity of the Lake Champlain Basin.”

When stewardship actions are taken at home by the nearly 600,000 people who live in the Champlain basin, progress can be made. The “What You Can Do” tips in this report provide easy and low-cost opportunities that residents and visitors can take to improve the Lake. With more than 14,000 miles of streams and rivers delivering more than 2 trillion gallons of water to Lake Champlain each year, improving Lake Champlain also means looking to the upper elevations of the Basin. Landowners and communities across the Basin must slow the water and sink it into the landscape before it carries sediment and pollution to lakes and rivers. 

“The 2021 State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report provides a unique view of the conditions of Lake Champlain and its watershed, the successes our staff and partners have achieved, and the ongoing challenges we collectively face,” said Susan Sullivan, Executive Director of NEIWPCC. “NEIWPCC is proud to support development and access to the science that underpins the report and the ongoing work to communicate and engage with the communities in the Lake Champlain Basin.”

Major messages from the 2021 report include:

2021 State of the Lake Report: Clean Water

  • Many regions of Lake Champlain have phosphorus concentrations that are often near or below targeted limits. However, phosphorus concentrations in some parts of the Lake are often above these limits, notably Missisquoi Bay, St. Albans Bay, the Northeast Arm, and South Lake.
  • This report highlights long-term improvements in the amount of phosphorus sent to Lake Champlain from some rivers each year. However, several rivers continue to contribute too much phosphorus to the Lake.
  • Phosphorus delivered to Lake Champlain from New York, Vermont, and Québec wastewater treatment facilities continues to be well below targeted phosphorus loading limits.
  • Chloride, mainly from road deicing salt application in the winter, is increasing in concentration in the Lake, but remains well below established benchmarks for drinking water quality.
  • New mercury data for fish tissue was not available for this report, but a study to commence in 2022 will provide new data for the next State of the Lake report.
  • When considered together, the 17 public beaches that regularly reported information about beach status were open for swimming 97% of the time from Memorial Day to Labor Day in 2018-2020.
  • When a Lake Champlain public beach is closed for health concerns, it is usually a result of a cyanobacteria bloom, which caused closures on about 2% of the days for reporting beaches during the traditional recreational season. These beaches were closed due to elevated coliform bacteria levels about 1% of the days during this same period.
  • Vermont public water suppliers sourcing their water from Lake Champlain have been testing raw and finished (potable) water since 2015. Over 1,300 Vermont drinking water samples were tested between 2018-2020 and cyanotoxins were not detected in any finished water samples, and were detected at low levels in only two raw water samples.
  • Combined sewer overflow events are potential sources of pathogens to the Lake, and are a challenge to eliminate. About 64% of the combined sewer overflow discharge points in New York and Vermont have been eliminated since 1990, and work continues to address contributing stormwater runoff issues.

2021 State of the Lake Report: Healthy Ecosystems

  • Efforts to manage water chestnut continue to be successful at reducing the percentage of lake area covered by this invasive plant at the southern end of Lake Champlain. This invasive plant has been found by lake users at a few sites in the northern sections of the Lake where it is being managed successfully.
  • Landlocked Atlantic salmon have more access to historic river habitat as dam removal, fish ladders, trapping and trucking the fish help extend their historic range.
  • By 1900, there were not enough wild lake trout left to sustain the population in Lake Champlain. After many years of stocking by fisheries managers, University of Vermont biologists have recently found multiple age classes of wild lake trout in the Lake, which informed a management decision to reduce stocking of lake trout into Lake Champlain by 33% in 2022. This will help to maintain a healthy balance between wild and stocked lake trout and their forage fish base.
  • Lake Champlain continues to freeze over less often now than it did a century ago.  Modeling forecasts for lake freeze-over suggest this trend will continue, and by 2050, the lake may only fully freeze over once per decade. The warming climate impacts species diversity, habitat, and natural ecosystem function. Future winters may have shorter recreational seasons with limited ice fishing opportunities.
  • Aquatic invasive species continue to affect the Lake, and the arrival of the fishhook waterflea in 2018 has changed the base of Lake Champlain’s food web.
  • Sea lamprey wounding rates on lake trout fluctuate, and recently have been well above the goal of 25 wounds per 100 lake trout.  Wounding rates on Atlantic salmon are often much closer to the target of 15 wounds per 100 salmon.  Management approaches for sea lamprey primarily target larval and spawning life stages of this eel-like fish when it is in the rivers.
  • Lake Champlain is threatened by the invasion of new species that are moving closer to the Basin, including quagga mussels, hydrilla, and round goby. Spread prevention efforts focus on managing pathways and human activities that may unintentionally introduce these species to the Lake.

2021 State of the Lake Report: Thriving Communities

  • Almost 40% of the land area of the Lake Champlain basin is conserved in some way.  These conserved lands provided a much-needed outlet for residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The increased access to these resources demonstrated the importance of protecting lands for public use.
  • The Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership will mark its 15th anniversary in October 2021.  Since 2008, the CVNHP has provided nearly $200,000 in grants for 21 projects that researched, interpreted, and showcased Native American history and culture.

2021 State of the Lake Report: Informed and Involved Public

  • Training teachers and students about place-based watershed issues is key to the future of the Lake Champlain Basin, as students are inheriting the water quality issues the basin faces today.  Teacher training opportunities created through partnerships among organizations, colleges, and field experts strengthen teachers’ ability to transfer this knowledge to their students, often with a multiplier impact of 1:500 students over 4 years. Since 2018, 21 watershed schools and 34 classrooms have shared what they’ve learned through the Champlain Basin Education Initiative’s United Nations World Water Day event in Burlington, VT.
  • Lake Champlain Sea Grant’s UVM Watershed Alliance stream ecology program was expanded to SUNY Plattsburgh to offer more student programming in New York. Combined with Paul Smith’s College, Trout Unlimited, Miner Institute, and the Lake George Association’s ecology and fish ecology programs, more than 4,000 next generation Lake Champlain stewards experience fieldwork each year.  Cultural heritage groups, museums, and nature-based sites extend a wholistic approach to place based hands-on learning even further. 
  • Citizen action is important. Fourteen years of data collected through the Lake Champlain Boat Launch Steward program has demonstrated that the majority of boaters now take aquatic invasive species spread prevention measures. From 2018-2020, boat launch stewards reached 192,569 individuals on 93,724 watercraft. Sixty percent of boaters took spread prevention measures. In this same time period, 16% of surveyed watercraft (over 8,000 vessels) had aquatic invasive species attached.  Boaters can share stewardship responsibilities with three simple actions: Clean, Drain, and Dry their watercraft.
  • Local watershed groups, conservation districts, and others provide stewardship opportunities and they need your support. They work with homeowners to reduce driveway erosion, with farmers and other landowners to plant riparian buffers which stabilize soils, improve habitat and reduce flooding along streams and rivers, with municipalities and businesses to reduce the amount of deicing salts applied to roads in winter, and work to improve recreation access for paddling and hiking.

The public is encouraged to request a free copy of the report by completing this form or by calling the Lake Champlain Basin Program at (802) 372-3213. Hardcopies of the 2021 State of the Lake report will be available by late July 2021, and an electronic version may be found at www.lcbp.org/sol2021. If you would like more information about this report, please call Dr. Eric Howe, LCBP Director, at 802 372-3213 or email ehowe@lcbp.org.


The Lake Champlain Basin Program coordinates and funds efforts that benefit the Lake Champlain Basin’s water quality, fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources. The program works in partnership with federal agencies, state and provincial agencies from New York, Vermont, and Québec, local communities, businesses, and citizen groups. NEIWPCC—a regional commission that helps the states of the Northeast preserve and advance water quality—serves as the primary program administrator of LCBP at the request of the Lake Champlain Steering Committee, and administers the program’s personnel and finances. LCBP is a program partner of NEIWPCC. For further information, contact the Lake Champlain Basin Program, 54 West Shore Road, Grand Isle, VT at (802) 372-3213 / (800) 468-5227 or visit www.lcbp.org.

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