The Lake Champlain Basin, stretching from the peaks of the Adirondacks to the Green Mountains and north into Québec, is renowned as one of North America’s most beautiful and valued resources. Residents and visitors alike enjoy Lake Champlain for swimming, drinking, fishing, and recreation. At 120 miles (193 km) long and more than 400 feet (122 m) deep, the Lake supports a complex freshwater ecosystem with diverse plant and animal species. The biological riches of the basin, unparalleled beauty of the mountains, historic resources, agricultural landscapes, small towns and villages, and rivers that flow into the magnificent Lake provide experiences and opportunities unique to the region. Although the benefits of healthy resources are difficult to quantify, well-functioning ecosystems support a rich economy for fishing, swimming, agriculture and forestry.
While Lake Champlain remains a vibrant lake with many assets, several serious environmental problems demand action. High phosphorus levels, harmful algae blooms (HABs), toxic substances and pathogens, and aquatic invasive species threaten the Lake ecosystem and the human use and enjoyment of Lake Champlain. Natural resources, such as fish, wildlife, and plants, are threatened by invasive species, wetland loss, habitat degradation and fragmentation, and diminished water quality. Other issues that face the Lake Champlain Basin include changes in hydrology, habitat and biodiversity, climate, impacts from continued land-use changes and habitat fragmentation, public access to the Lake, recreational user conflicts, and loss of cultural resources.
Many improvements in wastewater management and sewage treatment (point sources) have greatly reduced the contamination of beaches and shorelines and continue to ensure that drinking water supplies in all parts of the Lake are safe. Partners continue to work together to address nutrient pollution from nonpoint sources that come from our interaction with urban, agricultural, and forested landscapes to Lake Champlain. Many challenges exist to protecting the watershed’s ecosystem functions so that it is best prepared to adapt to continuing climate change and the impacts of society.
On November 5, 1990, the Lake Champlain Special Designation Act was signed into law. Sponsored by Senators Leahy and Jeffords from Vermont and Senators Moynihan and D’Amato from New York, this legislation designated Lake Champlain as a resource of national significance. Its goal was to bring together people with diverse interests to create a comprehensive plan for protecting the future of Lake Champlain and its surrounding watershed. The act specifically required examination of water quality, fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, recreational, and cultural resource issues. The challenge has been both to identify particular problems requiring management action and to chart an integrated plan for the future of the Lake Champlain Basin. The Special Designation Act created the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP), a non-regulatory partnership among the States of New York and Vermont, the Province of Québec, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), other federal and local government agencies, and many public and private local groups.
The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) works in partnership with government agencies from New York, Vermont, and Québec, private organizations, local communities, and individuals to coordinate and fund efforts that benefit the Lake Champlain Basin’s water quality, fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources.
Lake Champlain is an enormous resource requiring special care and stewardship – this comprehensive management plan, Opportunities for Action: An Evolving Plan for the Future of the Lake Champlain Basin (OFA), is a coordinated effort to inform, guide, and assist essential stewardship efforts for the watershed.
As a partnership of provincial, state, and US federal agencies, the LCBP brings cross-boundary and multidisciplinary leadership experience to coordinating and implementing the plan. The LCBP works cooperatively with many partners to protect and enhance the environmental integrity and the social and economic benefits of the Lake Champlain Basin. The LCBP is administered jointly by several agencies: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Regions 1 and 2), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Québec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change, and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission.
Lake Champlain Steering Committee membership from New York, Québec, and Vermont reflects each jurisdiction’s commitment to the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Cooperation on the Management of Lake Champlain among The State of New York, The State of Vermont and the Government of Québec (Appendix V). It is this MOU that also describes the role, goals, and eligible membership of the Lake Champlain Steering Committee (Appendix IV). US Federal Agency participation in the Lake Champlain Steering Committee, codified in OFA, reflects the federal commitments established in the Special Designation Act of 1990 and the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Lake Champlain Basin Program Act of 2002, which have enabled substantial US federal funds to be appropriated to support the work of the LCBP. These funds are made available to the LCBP to support operations and tasks that are consistent with the federal authorizations. See Appendix I for more information about the LCBP Operating Structure, Committees (including Committee representation), and Staffing.
The Lake Champlain Basin Program historically has been appropriated funding by the U.S. government through the Environmental Protection Agency. More recently, the LCBP also has been supported with appropriations from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the National Park Service. LCBP also occasionally receives awards from other entities, such as the International Joint Commission to conduct specific projects. During the past two decades, the LCBP has sponsored a great variety of programs supported by these different sources of funding, including research, monitoring, and grants to regional organizations to promote water quality programs and install projects to improve water quality. LCBP has provided more than $13 million to support over 1,000 grants awarded to more than 600 local recipients to reduce pollution in the Lake, educate and involve the public, and gather and share information about Lake issues. The LCBP also has funded education, planning, demonstration, control, research, and monitoring projects to restore and protect water quality and the diverse natural and cultural resources of the Lake Champlain Basin.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
The Lake Champlain Special Designation Act (Section 120 of the Clean Water Act) was reauthorized in 2002, with the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Lake Champlain Basin Program Act, authorizing expenditures of up to $11 million per year to accomplish this goal. Recent annual appropriations via the EPA have averaged over $3 million, which support numerous LCBP programs and Lake Champlain Steering Committee priorities each fiscal year, with particular focus on supporting efforts to reduce phosphorus pollution to the lake and to reduce the occurrence of harmful algal blooms.
GREAT LAKES FISHERY COMMISSION
In addition to the funding appropriated to LCBP through Section 120 of the Clean Water Act, LCBP also receives support from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC). The GLFC was established by the 1954 Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries to encourage cross-border collaborative management efforts to restore the fisheries of the Great Lakes, particularly for management of sea lamprey. The recognition of sea lamprey as a nuisance species in Lake Champlain opened an avenue for funding through the GLFC to support fisheries and water quality restoration work in Lake Champlain. The GLFC, the LCBP, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Native Species and Habitat Restoration and Water Quality Improvements in 2010. Approximately $3 million is currently appropriated via the GLFC toward Lake Champlain work annually, a reflection of Senator Leahy’s commitment to improving the Lake Champlain ecosystem. Roughly one-third of this appropriation is available to LCBP to support watershed restoration work in Lake Champlain, with the balance directed toward sea lamprey management, fisheries research, and other habitat restoration work conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and researchers at the University of Vermont.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: CHAMPLAIN VALLEY NATIONAL HERITAGE PARTNERSHIP
The Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership (CVNHP) was established in 2006 as a part of the National Heritage Area (NHA) programs to recognize the importance of the historical, cultural, and recreational resources of the region and to assist efforts to preserve, protect, and interpret those resources. The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) is the managing entity of the CVNHP. The LCBP coordinates its work with its official liaison to the National Park Service (NPS), the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (MBRNHP) located in Woodstock, Vermont. The purpose of the NHA also is to enhance the quality of the tourism economy and to encourage working partnerships among state, provincial, and local governments and non-profit organizations in New York, Québec, and Vermont. As a NHA with an approved management plan, the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership (CVNHP) is authorized to receive up to $1 million annually, and is typically appropriated $300,000 from the National Park Service (NPS). The funds are allocated annually from the U.S. Department of Interior budget, which is determined by the U.S. Congress.
Opportunities for Action is a plan developed for managing the Lake Champlain watershed. To that end, it is designed as a tool for the Lake Champlain Steering Committee. This resource is to be used as a strategic planning guide, to inform management decisions over the next several years. The broader community of governments, organizations, watershed groups, academic institutions, and other lake-user groups can use this plan to follow the priorities of the Lake Champlain Steering Committee, to use as a guide for targeting their own programs, and to identify priorities within their own specific management plans that align with those of the Lake Champlain Steering Committee. The Lake Champlain Steering Committee is a board comprised of a broad spectrum of representatives of government agencies and the chairpersons of advisory groups representing citizen lake users, scientists, and educators. The Lake Champlain Steering Committee approves the guiding priorities identified in this Plan and authorizes the use of appropriated funds to achieve these priorities. For more information about the Lake Champlain Steering Committee, please refer to the “Lake Champlain Basin Program Role and Structure” section of the Plan.
All stakeholders within the Lake Champlain watershed wish to have a clean lake. Interpretations of “clean” may vary, but people generally want a lake that is suitable for recreation, provides a clean source of drinking water that is safe and reliable, and contains fish that are safe to eat. The stakeholders of the Lake Champlain watershed are not unique in this regard, and neither are the management issues that need to be addressed. Harmful algal blooms are a global issue, as are toxin levels within sportfish, conservation of threatened and vulnerable species, and the impacts of climate change. Invasive species can drastically alter lake ecosystems, often to the detriment of recreation and the economy, and occasionally public health. Changes in climate patterns affect the lake ecosystem, reducing ice cover and lengthening the biologically productive season of the lake. This increases the prevalence of algal blooms, improves conditions for some species, and reduces the quality of the ecosystem for others. The broader themes of this plan address some of these “aspirational goals” by reducing the frequency and toxicity of harmful algal blooms, reducing the impact of invasive species and eliminating pathways for new invasions, and restoring native species, such as lake trout and Atlantic salmon.
Opportunities for Action 2017 identifies a suite of task areas to address these concerns. The plan outlines priority goals, objectives, and strategies for the LCBP. Sound science is critical to these efforts, and it forms the basis of the work described in this plan. Long-term monitoring of the Lake Champlain ecosystem’s health is the foundation of this scientific approach, and is critical for conducting research and measuring the success or weaknesses of the plan.
The jurisdictions governing the Lake Champlain Basin—the governments of Québec, New York, Vermont, and U.S. federal agencies—have specific statutory requirements to establish and to achieve water quality standards. They each also have the ability to raise revenue and to enforce laws that accomplish these responsibilities. For example, the achievement of numeric phosphorus load reductions to achieve in-lake concentration standards are established as jurisdictional obligations in Vermont and New York. LCBP’s congressional authorizations provide a mechanism for LCBP to serve an important role in supporting the goals of the States to meet numeric standards and to facilitate collaboration among the many agencies responsible for meeting common goals. Several inter-jurisdictional agreements advancing the stewardship of the Lake Champlain watershed have been facilitated by the LCBP, resulting in a robust culture of cross-boundary collaboration.
As the latest revision of this restoration plan has developed, particular care has been taken to acknowledge and support, but not to duplicate, the actions detailed in other existing management plans, such as the Phosphorus TMDLs for Vermont Segments of Lake Champlain (2016), the Vermont Lake Champlain Phosphorus TMDL Phase I Implementation Plan (2016), the Lake Champlain Basin Rapid Response Action Plan for Aquatic Invasive Species (2009), and other important stand-alone planning documents.
Sound science and targeted management efforts alone will not achieve these broad aspirational goals. The resources available to achieve these goals is limited. A clean lake and healthy watershed will require more than what the LCBP and its partners can bring to the table. Broad changes in the way society relates to the Lake—as communities, as businesses, and as individuals working and living within the Lake Champlain watershed—will be required. Fundamental shifts in the way we think each day about the water that runs off our rooftops, driveways, lawns, fields and our forests, where that runoff goes, and what it carries with it will be critical if we are to achieve these aspirational goals in the long-term. If we each take actions to reduce our contribution to runoff and nutrient pollution, we can work collectively toward a healthy and resilient lake ecosystem. We need to consider how our educational system teaches students about their individual and collective impacts to the Lake, with emphasis on water conservation, quality, and management through individual actions. As a culture, we must think carefully about how we prioritize and fund programs that benefit the Lake, and how these programs can be sustained.
For this reason, plan implementation must involve the public and build local support through nongovernmental organizations and municipalities. Implementation must also provide a means of educating the public, elected officials, and interest groups about the science behind Lake issues to ensure these groups are accurately informed during policy development and funding decision processes.
Many cooperating agencies, organizations, and individuals have contributed their time and expertise to producing a comprehensive pollution prevention, control, and restoration plan that efficiently guides the allocation of LCBP resources. The Lake Champlain Steering Committee strives to allocate funds annually to support high priority tasks of basin-wide importance:
Perspectives d’action est un plan élaboré pour la gestion intégrée du bassin hydrographique du lac Champlain. À cet effet, le plan est conçu comme un outil de gestion pour le Comité directeur du lac Champlain. Ce plan doit être utilisé comme un guide de planification stratégique et une source d’information pour les orientations de gestion du comité pour les années à venir. L’ensemble des représentants des divers paliers gouvernementaux, des organisations de bassins versants, des universités et d’autres groupes peut utiliser aussi ce plan pour suivre les priorités du Comité directeur du lac Champlain et comme référence pour identifier leurs priorités d’interventions afin qu’ils s’harmonisent avec ceux du Comité directeur du lac Champlain. Le Comité directeur du lac Champlain est un conseil réunissant un large éventail de représentants d’instances gouvernementales et les présidents de groupes consultatifs qui représentent des citoyens, des chercheurs et des éducateurs. Le Comité directeur du lac Champlain approuve les priorités générales identifiées dans ce plan et autorise l’utilisation de fonds appropriés en vue de réaliser ces priorités. Pour plus de renseignements sur le Comité directeur du lac Champlain, veuillez vous reporter à la section « Lake Champlain Basin Program Role and Structure ».
Tous les intervenants et les citoyens du bassin versant du lac Champlain souhaitent avoir un lac avec de l’eau propre. L’interprétation de « propre » peut varier, mais dans l’ensemble les gens veulent avoir un lac qui est non pollué pour fournir une source d’eau potable sécuritaire et fiable, pour avoir des poissons non contaminés et pour leurs loisirs. Les citoyens du bassin versant du lac Champlain ne sont pas uniques à cet égard, pas plus que les problèmes de gestion qui doivent être relevés. La prolifération de cyanobactéries observée au lac Champlain est aussi une problématique mondiale, a un impact sur la qualité de l’eau potable et sur les eaux récréatives tout en affectant l’intégrité écologique du plan d’eau dont la faune aquatique incluant les espèces à statut précaire. De plus, les espèces exotiques envahissantes altèrent gravement les écosystèmes lacustres souvent au détriment des loisirs, de l’économie et parfois même de la santé publique. Sans oublier les changements climatiques qui affectent l’écosystème du lac en réduisant la couverture de glace et en prolongeant la période de productivité biologique du lac. Les changements climatiques augmentent la prévalence des proliférations d’algues et améliorent les conditions de certaines espèces au détriment de d’autres espèces. Les thèmes généraux de ce plan visent certains de ces « objectifs ambitieux », notamment la réduction de la fréquence et de la toxicité des fleurs d’eau de cyanobactéries, la réduction de l’impact des espèces exotiques envahissantes en éliminant leurs voies de migration et la restauration des espèces indigènes comme le touladi et le saumon atlantique.
Perspectives d’action 2017 identifie une série de mesures pour répondre à ces préoccupations. Le plan décrit les priorités, les objectifs et les stratégies prioritaires pour le LCBP. Un fondement scientifique est essentiel à ces efforts et constitue la base du travail décrit dans ce plan. Le suivi à long terme de la santé de l’écosystème du lac Champlain est le fondement de cette approche scientifique et est essentiel pour mener des recherches et mesurer le succès ou les faiblesses du plan.
Les juridictions du bassin du lac Champlain—les gouvernements du Québec, de New York, du Vermont et des organismes fédéraux américains—ont des exigences légales spécifiques pour établir et atteindre les normes de qualité de l’eau. Elles ont chacune également la capacité de générer des revenus et d’appliquer des lois pour assumer leurs responsabilités. Par exemple, la réalisation des objectifs de réduction des charges de phosphore pour satisfaire les normes de concentration dans le lac est définie comme étant une obligation juridique au Vermont et à New York. Le Congrès Américain confère un rôle d’assistance au LCBP pour faciliter la collaboration entre les partenaires des trois juridictions leur permettant d’assumer leurs responsabilités respectives pour atteindre les buts communs. Le LCBP a facilité la signature de plusieurs accords multipartites sur la gestion du bassin versant du lac Champlain, résultant en une solide culture de collaboration transfrontalière.
L’élaboration de cette nouvelle version du plan de réhabilitation a accordé un soin particulier à reconnaître et à soutenir, mais sans les répéter, les mesures détaillées dans d’autres plans de gestion existants, tels que Phosphorus TMDLs for Vermont Segments of Lake Champlain (2016), Vermont Lake Champlain Phosphorus TMDL Phase I Implementation Plan (2016), Lake Champlain Basin Rapid Response Action Plan for Aquatic Invasive Species (2009), et d’autres documents de planification stratégie.
Des données scientifiques solides et des efforts de gestion ciblés seuls ne permettront pas d’atteindre ces grands objectifs ambitieux dans un contexte de ressource limitée. La réalisation de ces objectifs nécessitera des efforts au-delà de la contribution que peuvent apporter le LCBP et ses partenaires. Elle nécessitera d’importants changements sociétaux notamment dans la manière dont nous pensons et agissons en tant que collectivités, entreprises et personnes qui œuvrent et vivent dans le bassin versant du lac Champlain. En effet, le rapport au lac et à son bassin versant est important. La façon dont nous agissons et pensons quotidiennement à l’eau qui ruisselle de nos toits, nos allées, nos pelouses, nos champs et nos forêts sera critique si nous voulons atteindre ces objectifs ambitieux à long terme. Si chaque citoyen du bassin versant peut faire un geste pour réduire la pollution, cela permettra d’améliorer collectivement la qualité de l’eau et l’écosystème du lac Champlain. Dans ce contexte, nous devons réfléchir soigneusement à la façon dont nous soutenons les programmes et leurs modes de financement. Nous devons aussi revoir la façon dont notre système d’enseignement sensibilise aux questions d’impacts individuels et collectifs sur le lac en mettant l’accent sur la conservation, la qualité et la gestion de l’eau par des actions individuelles. Nous devons réfléchir attentivement à la façon dont nous privilégions et finançons les programmes qui profitent au lac et la façon dont ces programmes peuvent être soutenus.
Pour cette raison, la mise en œuvre du plan doit impliquer le public et créer un soutien local par le biais d’organisations non gouvernementales et des municipalités. La mise en œuvre doit également fournir un moyen d’éduquer le public, les élus et les groupes d’intérêt sur une base scientifique afin de s’assurer que ces groupes sont correctement informés lors de l’élaboration des politiques et des processus de décision de financement.
De nombreuses personnes, organisations et agences ont contribué de leur temps et leur expertise à produire un plan exhaustif de prévention, de contrôle et de restauration qui oriente efficacement l’allocation des ressources de la LCBP. Le Comité directeur du lac Champlain s’efforce d’allouer des fonds chaque année pour soutenir les actions très prioritaires et importantes pour l’ensemble du bassin du lac Champlain, notamment :
Since the Plan was last updated in late 2010, the LCBP and the CVNHP have awarded over $13 million in grants. Many of these grants were augmented by non-federal matching funds or other federally-funded programs (Appendix II).
More than 75 grants, amounting to more than $2 million, were awarded to conduct aquatic invasive species outreach campaigns and to support work to prevent new invasions. Nearly 50 projects and $1 million helped improve aquatic and riparian habitat, including the planting of 58,000 trees, restoration of over four miles of shoreline, and conservation or restoration of 891 acres of important land parcels. Close to $5 million in LCBP funds supported important monitoring and research programs on Lake Champlain and its watershed. These programs continue to inform and improve the efficacy of management decisions at all levels of government. More than $4 million supported installation of Best Management Practices to reduce pollution from nutrients, sediment, and other contaminants from agriculture, forested, and developed lands. LCBP technical staff facilitated meetings, served as grant officers, and ensured that all environmental data collected under LCBP-funded projects were of high quality and could be reproduced where practical.
LCBP supported more than 80 projects totaling nearly $500,000 that focused on public education and outreach. These projects worked to build school outreach programs, summer youth programs, and community development. These programs connected with more than 15,000 students across the watershed and over 140,000 visitors to the LCBP Resource Room in the past 7 years at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. LCBP staff also worked to improve messaging and communications across several LCBP-hosted websites, through development of outreach materials, including two releases of the State of the Lake report (2012 and 2015), and many other venues.
Nearly 40 projects, supported by more than $380,000 in grants, worked toward meeting goals outlined in the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership management plan. CVNHP grants supported programs to improve interpretation of important historic sites and events across the Heritage area, promotion of recreational opportunities, and cultural and historical research. These funds also supported three voyages of the Lois McClure, a replica canal schooner maintained and operated by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. CVNHP staff assisted with the development of 62 interpretive wayside exhibits, placed at important historical sites across the Heritage area. Staff also developed numerous guides, rack cards, maps, and other outreach materials promoting recreational opportunities throughout the region.
Coordination of the work conducted in multiple political jurisdictions by numerous federal and state resource agencies, regional and local governments, private-sector stakeholders, nonprofit organizations, residents, and visitors is critical to effective management of the Lake Champlain Basin. By coordinating management efforts and the dispersal of resources, and facilitating dialogue and the exchange of data and information, the LCBP helps to ensure efficient management that reduces redundancy among partners.
On-the-ground work conducted at the local level by watershed groups, lake associations, conservation districts, and educational institution is the cornerstone of a successful restoration effort. Local residents who are most directly affected by an issue are often best able to address the issue. Many communities have existing resources and organizations to help implement programs, but may lack technical expertise, adequate funding, or access to additional human and financial resources. Building local capacity for plan implementation requires strengthening technical assistance to community groups and may require additional financial support for local programs.
A public that understands the Basin’s water quality and resource management issues can make informed choices about the long-term protection and restoration of the Lake. For this reason, public information and outreach efforts have been a core function of the LCBP’s work since its establishment. Informing the public about how to change personal and collective behaviors and providing opportunities to change those behaviors are critical steps in reducing our impact on Lake Champlain. Furthermore, involving the public in planning and implementation increases both the sphere of responsibility for action and support for recommended policy actions.
Monitoring progress toward established goals is a critical component of watershed management. Tracking of this kind hinges on the availability of reliable data that informs key ecosystem indicators of watershed health. Evaluation of trends related to these indicators leads to the adjustment of management actions and funding priorities. In this way, monitoring ensures accountability to the public. The triennial State of the Lake report, which summarizes the status and trends of these indicators, is the LCBP’s primary outlet for communicating this process to the public.
In addition, the LCBP will work in collaboration with Federal, State and Provincial partners to track the success of specific management initiatives. Beginning with the completion of the federal fiscal year 2016 (October 2015-September 2016), LCBP will provide an annual report of LCBP-funded accomplishments for our State and Federal partners to use in tracking performance measures within their unique accounting systems. This approach will reduce the risk of “double counting” management interventions, while also ensuring that management interventions funded solely by the LCBP are included within the respective State and Federal accounting systems.
Each of the four goals of the 2017 plan identifies “Anticipated Outcomes” for objectives and task areas. These targets reflect anticipated numbers of management interventions, funding for research programs, audiences for outreach campaigns, and recreation programs. This information will be provided in our Annual Report to our State and Federal partners to use in their performance tracking systems.
Protection and restoration of the Basin relies on continued input and support from numerous individuals and groups. Decisions concerning the management of the resources in the Lake Champlain Basin must be made through a consensus-based, collaborative process that encourages the expression and understanding of diverse viewpoints. This process helps integrate economic and environmental considerations into management actions and ensures that a focus on implementation at the local level is maintained. Through its committees and the partner workgroup in which it participates, the LCBP helps to ensure that the numerous stakeholders working on Basin issues communicate regularly.
LCBP staff will continue to coordinate and facilitate regular meetings of the Lake Champlain Steering Committee, the Executive Committee, and its three advisory committees: Technical, Education & Outreach, and Heritage Area Partnership. These committees are charged with developing annual budget priorities, informing project workplans and providing recommendations on draft project reports. Subcommittees, including the Aquatic Nuisance Species Subcommittee and Toxic Substances Workgroup of the Technical Advisory Committee, meet ad hoc to focus on specific issues and share information.
FEDERAL PARTNERS WORKGROUP
The Lake Champlain Federal Partners Workgroup consists of many of the U.S. Federal agencies working toward goals in the Lake Champlain watershed. These partners include the core group of Federal agencies that are signatories of Opportunities for Action, as well as several other agencies. Federal agencies formally participating in the Workgroup through an Memorandum of Understanding include the USEPA, National Park Service (NPS), National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), United States Forest Service (USFS), and the U.S. Geological Survey. Other agencies, including Lake Champlain SeaGrant (a program within the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration), participate in this group informally. These agencies allocate resources, either in the form of staff time or funding for programmatic areas including research, monitoring, trainings, infrastructure improvements or for management interventions. A renewal of the Federal Partners Workgroup MOU in 2018 may add new federal agencies to the agreement, including the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), USDA-Rural Development, USDA-Farm Services Agency (FSA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Coast Guard, the National Weather Service (NWS) and others. In 2016, LCBP began coordinating communication and facilitating meetings for the group. These meetings will bring together staff from many of the Federal agencies working toward management of the Lake Champlain watershed. These meetings will provide an opportunity for agency representatives to report on recent projects, discuss upcoming initiatives and funding opportunities, and to develop new collaborative programs targeting priority management goals within the Lake Champlain Basin.
AD HOC MEETINGS AND WORKGROUPS
LCBP staff frequently provide meeting facilitation for partners. Most recently, the Vermont DEC and US EPA Region 1 have called on LCBP to help coordinate and facilitate public meetings for the revision of the Vermont Lake Champlain phosphorus Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Similarly, the International Joint Commission (IJC) has requested meeting facilitation services to coordinate discussions of potential flood management strategies for Lake Champlain, in response to the spring 2011 flooding event that affected many residents on the Lake Champlain shoreline as well as those downstream of Lake Champlain along the Richelieu River in Québec.
At the request of partners, LCBP frequently organizes workgroups or discussions focusing on specific issues. In 2014, staff coordinate and facilitated a workshop to consider nutrient management in Missisquoi Bay and its watershed. LCBP resources were used to arrange site facilities for the day, coordinate the meeting, facilitate the conversations during the course of the day, and to provide meeting follow-up information for participants. LCBP anticipates similar requests to facilitate cross-border (bi-state, state-provincial and bi-national) conversations, particularly in Missisquoi Bay. The program also might also engage in conversations regarding crude oil transport on railways along the Lake Champlain shoreline and the Lake’s role as a corridor for energy transmission lines.
Countless partners—including federal, state, and provincial agencies, watershed and conservation groups, heritage and recreation organizations, and local citizens—work to prevent pollution and protect, restore, enhance, and enjoy the water quality of the Lake Champlain Basin. Many of these partners are guided primarily by their own plans and priorities, such as the Phosphorus TMDL Implementation Plan for Lake Champlain or the Aquatic Invasive Species Rapid Response Plan. The intent of OFA is to provide guidance to Steering Committee and Advisory Committee members in identifying the annual budget priorities and tasks for LCBP, including its function of collaborating with and coordinating the efforts of these partners. While OFA focuses on the actions of agency partners and other stakeholder organizations, it also aims to improve the knowledge of lake issues among the public and the private sectors, and to encourage positive changes in stewardship behaviors.
LOCAL RESIDENTS AND VISITORS
The cumulative effect of many individual actions make a substantial difference in the complex issues facing the Lake Champlain Basin. In this way, all members of the public are key partners in implementation of OFA. More than 600,000 people live, work, and play in the Lake Champlain basin, which they share with more than six million annual visitors. The need for increased public involvement underlies all of the actions in the plan. Individual changes in household and workplace practices, such as maintaining septic systems properly and reducing the use of toxic chemicals in cleaning and lawn care, are needed. Citizens can volunteer for local boards, monitor their community’s activities, and participate in citizen groups that work for a cleaner Lake. Visitors who bring significant tourism income and an appreciation of the region’s natural assets encourage sustainable practices by local businesses. Because the efforts of agencies alone will not succeed without public involvement, OFA emphasizes education and outreach programs.
STATE AND PROVINCIAL AGENCIES
State and provincial agencies in New York, Québec, and Vermont have several key roles in protecting the Basin’s resources. They administer a number of critically important resource management programs, including water-quality protection programs, wetlands protection programs, fish and wildlife management programs, and recreation and cultural resource programs, among others. The states and province also provide technical and financial assistance, such as training for wastewater treatment plant operators and funding for local nonpoint source pollution control projects, to ensure that the appropriate people have the expertise to implement their programs.
U.S. FEDERAL AGENCIES
Many of the activities necessary to improve the watershed must occur at the local and state levels. However, environmental restoration efforts in the Lake Champlain Basin often benefit from the work of federal agencies that implement key projects on the ground. Agency support of the plan is coordinated through a unique network of partnerships. Several federal agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate their cooperation and coordination through the LCBP. Representatives of these agencies are active in many LCBP activities.
NEW ENGLAND WATER POLLUTION CONTROL COMMISSION (NEIWPCC)
Established by the U.S. Congress in 1947, NEIWPCC is a 501(c)(3) corporation that also operates under a seven-state compact. NEIWPCC’s primary mission is to assist member states in New England and New York by providing coordination, public education, training, and leadership in the protection of water quality and related work in the region. NEIWPCC is a federal grant recipient and receives Section 120 funds from the EPA, as well as other federal agencies, to conduct the business and financial affairs of the LCBP, including staffing and administration of subawards and contracts, according to its rules and procedures. In 1992, the Lake Champlain Management Conference sought NEIWPCC to administer the newly formed LCBP by managing the bulk of its personnel and financial resources according to programmatic goals laid out by the Management Conference (and subsequently the Lake Champlain Steering Committee), a responsibility which NEIWPCC accepted. The role of NEIWPCC in administering finances for the LCBP was further codified in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Act of 2002 (Clean Water Act §120), in which NEIWPCC was named alongside the States of Vermont and New York as an entity authorized to receive funding from the U.S. EPA to administer the LCBP. LCBP operations handled by NEIWPCC conform to its Quality Management Plan, approved by the USEPA.
Most of the solutions to problems affecting the Basin, such as nonpoint source pollution from urban and agricultural land uses, failing septic systems, planning for future development, and recreation conflicts, are best implemented at the local level. The plan identifies several actions through which the LCBP can assist local governments to address these matters. Key partners likely to implement such actions are Select Boards, local boards and commissions. Because local governments have primary authority over planning—and increasingly, financial responsibility—for the impact of their transportation infrastructure, it is essential that they incorporate a watershed planning focus into their work.
REGIONAL GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS
Watersheds cross town boundaries, and one town acting alone may not be sufficient to address a particular issue. Regional organizations, such as the county planning offices in New York, Municipalité Régionale de Comté (Regional Municipalities) in Quebec, and the Regional Planning Commissions in Vermont, work with a number of jurisdictions to coordinate efforts that address issues of mutual concern. They will continue to be key partners in focusing implementation efforts through a watershed approach to planning and ensuring that the recommendations of the plan are carried out equitably.
Legislative bodies in the Basin are responsible for enacting laws and appropriating funds for many programs important to the Lake. Consistent policies in New York, Québec, and Vermont help to ensure effective and equitable management. The LCBP seeks opportunities to facilitate coordination among the lawmaking bodies of the three jurisdictions. Successful implementation requires that legislators respond decisively and creatively to protect and enhance the resources of the Basin in the face of technical, political, and financial obstacles.
Many actions in the plan list nonprofit and citizen-based organizations as potential key partners. Watershed associations and environmental groups have long helped to organize and support local action, including water-quality monitoring, research, conservation of cultural heritage resources, educational workshops, streambank stabilization, toxin reduction initiatives, aquatic species control, public forums, and the encouragement of low-impact recreational activities. Their continued communication with the LCBP about emerging issues and priorities is invaluable.
ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS AND RESEARCH ORGANIZATIONS
Academic institutions, research organizations, and cooperative extension programs have served vital roles in studying Lake Champlain and its Basin. Institutions such as the University of Vermont, SUNY Plattsburgh, Paul Smiths College, St. Michaels College, Institut de Recherche et de Développement en Agroenvironnement (IRDA), McGill University, Université de Sherbrooke, Cornell University, Middlebury College, Green Mountain College, Johnson State College, and others have conducted a variety of research projects on the Lake and the Basin. They also have educated students, teachers, and other citizens about Lake Champlain issues. Many actions in the plan call for research concerning Lake-wide problems and emerging issues. Continued OFA implementation requires continued participation by academic institutions and research organizations and depends greatly on the soundness of data and information collected by them.
The Lake Champlain Research Consortium (LCRC), a multidisciplinary research and education program that includes many of these institutions, collaborates with the LCBP periodically to sponsor research symposia and conferences, and helps identify research needs and priorities related to the management issues in the plan.
The need for state and international communication and cooperation regarding the management of the Lake Champlain Basin has been apparent since the 1940s. Numerous successful efforts have brought the two states and countries together to deal with common issues since that time.
The Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative was created through written agreement in 1973 by the USFWS, the NYSDEC, and the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife. The Cooperative Agreement, which was updated in 1995, created a Policy Committee consisting of program directors from the three agencies and management and technical committees of agency staff. Organizations in Québec are not formal partners with the Cooperative but coordinate and communicate with the Cooperative.
INTERNATIONAL TREATY ORGANIZATIONS
The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 created the International Joint Commission (IJC) to resolve and to avoid potential disputes regarding the use of boundary waters along the U.S. and Canadian border. IJC membership is comprised of six commissioners appointed by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada. The IJC convened a Champlain-Richelieu Board during the 1970s to examine regulation of water levels in Lake Champlain and more recently supported research and planning endeavors focused in the Missisquoi River Basin. In 2016, the IJC embarked on a new planning effort to address flooding issues in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River corridor.
BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY
The activities of private businesses and chambers of commerce are a critical component of protecting the resources that support the economic vitality of the Basin. Voluntary efforts to recycle and prevent pollution are examples of how the private sector has been active in implementing elements of the plan. Educational partnerships with television and other news media have tremendously increased public awareness of the importance of individual citizen participation and community involvement in good Lake stewardship practices. Chambers of commerce have been effective at drawing together business interests to assist in the planning process and will continue to contribute knowledge through the course of plan implementation.
SECURE AND DIRECT FUNDING
The cost of implementing the plan is high, though not as high as the potential costs of failing to act (LCBP Technical Report 81: An Assessment of the Economic Value of Clean Water in Lake Champlain. University of Vermont, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, 2015). The ability to implement watershed programs relies on the availability of and access to funding sources. Each fiscal year, the LCBP receives assistance awards from the US EPA, National Park Service, and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission through NEIWPCC. These funds are the basis of its annual budget, by which essential functions are supported, including annual staffing levels, core programmatic tasks (e.g. monitoring programs), and new “capital” projects, such as targeted research projects, management interventions, heritage and recreation grants, or outreach campaigns.
The Lake Champlain Steering Committee recently has directed LCBP to supplement these traditional sources of funding with funding received from national competitive grant programs and other partnership opportunities. Funding from additional sources can bolster existing LCBP programs, or support new initiatives that meet management plan goals and address national issues of concern but have not historically been a high priority in the Lake Champlain annual budget allocations. These grants might also be used to support staff time for specific projects, freeing some funding from EPA, GLFC, or NPS awards. LCBP will work with the Steering Committee to develop a process to engage in development of public and private funding opportunities for program implementation and to allocate resources to appropriate entities based upon recommended priorities.
The plan identifies several areas in which research is needed. Research has been an important component of preparing and updating the plan and will continue to provide critical information as implementation evolves. Improved knowledge of the physical, chemical, biological, and social characteristics of the Lake and Basin will help resource managers make effective policy and management decisions in the future.
Because environmental conditions in the Basin change over time and new technologies are routinely discovered, priorities for action in the plan may change. Some management programs may become more important, other less so. The plan should be reviewed and updated periodically (ideally every five years) to reflect these changing conditions. Moreover, the Steering Committee may periodically identify new actions requiring implementation based on reports of emerging issues from advisory committees.
The Lake Champlain Basin Program has identified four goals that represent the key resource issues facing Lake Champlain and its watershed. Each goal is addressed by objectives, strategies, and task areas. The plan also identifies anticipated outputs and outcomes for each task area. Objectives are the target areas for action that will help to reach the overarching goal of the chapter. Strategies outline the approaches that will be taken to achieve the objective using the general actions or tools identified in the task areas. Specific tasks in each task area will be identified as part of the budget process each year. Outputs are the products—publications, programs, tools, etc.— delivered as a result of the tasks, and outcomes are the overall environmental benefit. This cycle gives the Lake Champlain Basin Program committees an opportunity to review the task areas for each goal to determine progress made and areas for further tasks.
Lake Champlain waters will be clean enough for people to swim, boat, fish and drink with minimal treatment, and will support a healthy ecosystem. Improving the water quality of Lake Champlain and its watershed is necessary to sustain diverse ecosystems and support vibrant communities and viable working landscapes. Strategies in this section focus on maintaining the current monitoring network, understanding the risk of toxic pollutants, and reducing nutrient inputs to water bodies.
Lake Champlain’s aquatic ecosystems will support a rich diversity and abundance of native species, and will be resilient to climate change and free of aquatic invasive species. A healthy Lake Champlain ecosystem is critical to maintaining a high functioning Lake, but it is vulnerable to existing and future impacts. Wetland and upland habitat, in particular riparian and shoreland habitat areas must be identified, prioritized, protected and restored in each sub-watershed. Native species, notably threatened or vulnerable species, must be conserved while the impact of aquatic invasive and non-native species is reduced through improved management strategies.
Lake Champlain Basin communities have an appreciation and understanding of the Basin’s rich natural and cultural resources, and have the capacity to implement actions that will result in sound stewardship of these resources while maintaining strong local economies. Lake Champlain is a destination for recreation and tourism, and contributes to the region’s renowned quality of life. Community involvement to improve Lake Champlain and its watershed is critical to achieving common goals for Lake Champlain. Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership objectives for preserving the region’s rich cultural heritage and connecting people to the landscape are integrated into this goal.
Basin residents and visitors will understand and appreciate the Lake Champlain basin resources, and will possess a sense of personal responsibility that results in behavioral changes and actions to reduce pollution. Public outreach is core component of the Lake Champlain Basin Program’s work. This goal outlines ways to improve communication, scientific literacy, and cultural guidance to communities, partners, the media, K-12 educators, and children.
Several common themes that define the LCBP’s approach to reaching the ecosystem targets are present in all four goals outlines in this management plan. These themes reflect a whole-watershed management approach that address current and future resilience to environmental, economic, and political change.
More than 95 percent of the water in Lake Champ¬lain passes through the 8,234 square miles (21,326 km2) of the Basin as surface and subsurface runoff before reaching the Lake. As a result, land-use activities and pollution sources throughout the Basin have a tremendous impact on the Lake and its ecosystems. Restoration or pro¬tection efforts based on watershed boundaries rather than political boundaries better address polluted or threatened areas. In addition to applying the watershed approach on a Basin-wide level, OFA encourages the water-shed approach at a local level. This allows citizens to improve water quality based on their knowledge of their local area, and for neighboring communi¬ties to develop innovative ways to solve pollu¬tion problems within their local watersheds. Empowering local communities and their organizations to collaborate gives any effort a better chance of real, sustained success. The plan continues to use a watershed approach that links the Lake with activities in its watershed.
LCBP recognizes that all segments of the Lake Champlain watershed are important, and that each segment has its own unique management issues. Some of these segments are further from their management targets than others, particularly with respect to nutrient management issues. Several State and Federal partners have targeted specific watersheds to focus resources for nutrient pollution reduction in their respective management planning efforts. These watersheds include Missisquoi Bay, St. Albans Bay, and the South Lake (Crown Point area southward). The LCBP will work with State and Federal partners to allocate some LCBP funds for nutrient reduction in these high priority watersheds each year. These additional funds may be used for direct management interventions on the landscape, for planning initiatives, research, or short-term targeted monitoring programs designed to identify critical locations for future work.
The climate in the Basin is changing and we must be prepared for an environment that may look very different in the future than the one we see today. Scientists predict a warmer, wetter watershed, which will have far-reaching impacts to tourism, water quality, frequency and toxicity of harmful algal blooms, invasive species spread, and many other management priorities. New research at the University of Vermont has shown that climate change is occurring at a faster rate in the region than originally predicted. Many local and state governments are starting to take action. Planning for these changes at a watershed scale will create more resilient natural systems and human communities. Throughout each goal of the plan, principles that address local and regional-level climate change adaptation are embedded in the strategies for implementing action.
Management of the Basin’s resources is based on consistent, high-quality data and current scientific knowledge that is developed by a diverse array of federal, state provincial, local, and not-for-profits partners. Just as policy development and implementation of management actions require a consensus-based approach to decision making, the collection and development of the data and knowledge upon which those actions are based requires cooperation and coordination.
A healthy Lake Champlain is crucial to a strong regional economy, and a strong economy is good for the Lake. This plan strives to protect and restore the ecological and cultural resources of the Basin while maintaining vibrant local economies by identifying cost-effective solutions and ensuring efficient use of resources by coordinating funding efforts and management actions.
LCBP carefully tracks the outcomes of funded projects to measure progress. Since the last iteration of this management plan, the Lake Champlain Basin Program funded nearly $13 million in projects. These projects improved water quality, expanded research and monitoring programs and supported public outreach. During that time, LCBP funded nearly 330 projects ranging from curriculum development and cultural heritage preservation to aquatic invasive species spread prevention and nutrient reduction programs.
Phosphorus load reductions are required by state, federal and provincial law. The LCBP was established with the charge of coordinating efforts among government agencies working toward these outcomes. Within the constraints of the LCBP’s annual budget, the Lake Champlain Steering Committee has identified priorities for the LCBP for each goal. For each of these priorities, anticipated outputs will tracked by LCBP and summarized in an annual report of activities. These outputs also will be communicated to the relevant jurisdictional partners for their internal tracking purposes. Ultimately, the collective success of the LCBP and its partners is documented in the tri-annual State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report, which tracks progress in addressing issues toward phosphorus reductions, human health and toxins, and biodiversity and aquatic invasive species.