Lake Carmi advocates call for more funding and treatment options as algal bloom continues

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An algal bloom is visible near the shore of Lake Carmi in early September 2022. Photo courtesy of John Costa

Supporters of improving Lake Carmi’s water quality want state officials to provide more money for cleanup efforts directed at the troubled Franklin County water body, after another marked by ubiquitous blooms of cyanobacteria.

They are also calling for a feasibility study on implementing alum treatment – using aluminum sulfate to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the water – in the lake, saying this could be the next best step to curb the continued release of this nutrient.

“Even though there has been significant investment and significant work that has been done in our watershed, we have probably had one of the worst years we have ever had,” said Rob Evans, president of the Franklin Watershed. Committee, about 2022.

Currently, Vermont allocates $50,000 in “lake in crisis” funding each year for lake cleanup efforts, though that’s not the only state funding that helps with water quality projects. water there. Lake Carmi was designated the state’s first “Lake in Crisis” in 2018.

In a letter sent last month to state officials, including Julie Moore, secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, the watershed committee and the Lake Carmi Camper’s Association – of which Evans serves as vice-president – said asked the state to triple this “crisis” funding.

Evans said $150,000 a year would ensure the lake’s aeration system, which has seen mixed results since it was installed in 2019, continues to operate. It would also fund additional staff, including a full-time watershed coordinator, who Evans says would be better placed to manage key projects than the current part-time coordinator.

The letter also asks state officials to renew additional state funding of $50,000 to a monitoring platform operated by the University of Vermont Extension, which provides a wealth of near real-time lake condition data points on a publicly accessible website.

VTDigger reported in May that the state had no plans at the time to continue funding the platform after this year — a concern for advocates such as Evans, who said the move would only limit people’s understanding of water quality conditions.

Carmi Lake advocates pointed to an intense July cyanobacterial bloom that spanned the entire 1,375-acre body of water as a source of frustration for local property owners. Evans said in a late September interview that he had not been able to enter the water from the dock at his lakeside property since before the end of June.

According to Dave Bennion, chairman of the selection committee at Franklin, where the lake is located, the blooms this summer have “of course” had a detrimental effect on tourism around the lake. It lies northwest of Enosburgh, just a few miles from the Canada-US border.

“None of us consider the conditions this summer to be acceptable,” Moore said in an interview. “And I agree with Rob Evans and the Franklin Watershed Committee that we need to review our approach and think about what comes next.”

Algae is visible on the surface of Lake Carmi in early September 2022. Photo courtesy of John Costa

Moore said she appreciates the advocates’ requests and her agency is considering whether to offer to fund them in the state’s clean water budget for fiscal year 2024, which the Clean Water Board will consider under project form. later this month.

That budget will then go through a public hearing and may ultimately be included in the governor’s budget proposal to the Legislative Assembly when it is convened next January.

Moore said that even if the council doesn’t increase funding for the “lake in crisis,” specifically, it could still fund water quality projects at Lake Carmi in other parts of the water budget. own. Moore said she expects funding for the UVM monitoring platform will likely be included.

But what’s next is still unclear, according to Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin. Brock said he knows “time is running out” when it comes to cleaning up Lake Carmi, but he doesn’t think the state has yet shown what further steps it will take to justify more money.

Moore said she understands that concern.

“I don’t know if there’s a clear next step right now,” she said. “There’s no playbook for this job, except that we know we eventually have to turn off the phosphorus tap going into the lake.”

Evans said one improvement he saw over the summer was that the state’s million-dollar aeration system, designed to pump oxygen into the lake, was running with little or no interruptions for the first time since it was installed four summers ago.

The system had been plagued with malfunctions in its first three summers of operation, and data shows that its starts and stops may have actually made the bloom worse.

But cyanobacterial blooms were still an obvious problem this summer, even with the aeration system working at its best, Evans said, leading him and other advocates to conclude that there is a need for one or more new solutions to the lake, such as an alum treatment.

Moore said the data shows the aeration system has been effective in keeping the water near the bottom of the lake rich in oxygen, which prevents the release of phosphorus that fuels blooms of harmful cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue algae. -green.

“I think what we’re learning, though, is that the aeration system is insufficient to do that from shore to shore, across the lake,” she said. “Any weakness in oxygenation leads to the mobilization of phosphorus in these areas.”

Oliver Pierson, director of the state’s lakes and ponds program, said he agrees it may be time to consider alum treatment at Lake Carmi, noting that conditions this summer came after the state met its 2021 goal to reduce phosphorus entering the lake from external sources. , such as agricultural activity in the surrounding watershed.

In the water, aluminum sulfate – or alum – can bind to phosphorus, preventing the nutrient from becoming a source of algae growth. Pierson said that several years ago, alum treatment would not have been realistic at Lake Carmi because there was still too much phosphorus entering the lake’s catchment from external sources.

A 2018 study Water Treatment Options for Lake Carmi pegged the cost of a one-time alum treatment at $660,000. The recent letter from the lake organizations lists an estimated cost of between $1 million and $2 million for similar treatment.

Pierson said that before spending a large sum of money on an alum treatment, officials should ensure — possibly using a feasibility study — that the treatment would be cost-effective and provide lasting relief to residents and to visitors. Lake Carmi is the only “crisis lake” in the state, he said, but there are also competing priorities.

“It’s just a lake in a state with hundreds of other lakes, rivers and wetlands, and other clean water priorities,” Pierson said. “It’s really important to achieve that.”

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