I. Introduction to Service Category
Lake Champlain harbors many different ecosystem services such as: regulating, provisioning and cultural services. These individual services offer a stable, vital environment that supports human life. Without these services the quality of life would seriously be compromised and in some cases unobtainable. Lake Champlain basin provides: drinking water, sewage water, recreation and transportation, not to mention the value the population gets from its aesthetic beauty and cultural history. The lake as a provisioning source specifically offers the distribution of water as a resource. A resource that offers: drinking water, hydropower, nutrients for soil and food for organisms. We specifically are looking at Lake Champlain Basin water as a source of hydropower. Hydropower is a renewable energy that will help to reduce our carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels imported in that do not impact the local economy as directly as hydropower from our own resource, Lake Champlain and its tributaries, would. Vermont already gets two-thirds of its energy from Hydro-Quebec, as a reliable and safe source, may as well get it locally.
II. Context of Lake Basins
The introduction of hydro power in any lentic or riparian system can have far reaching affects. Aside from the obvious disruption of the waters’ natural course and interrupting wildlife feeding and migration patterns, increased human activity in the area can lend itself to a myriad of environmental concerns. Increased soil disturbance from dam construction creates unoccupied sites that can quickly be inhabited by invasive or non native species, which are usually better at competing for a site than native species. The loss of a riparian buffer near the dam site can cause an increase in the overall water temperature due to shade loss, and can also lead to increased pollutants in the lake, as there is no vegetation along the stream banks to absorb them (Khemani, 2008). Increased pollutants and temperature fluctuations such as this can cause disruptions in the food chain, and ultimately lead to the local extinction of some species. In addition, the water stored in the dam for its potential energy becomes still and stagnant, containing less oxygen. However, when the water is released to generate electricity, the oxygen content increases drastically which ultimately affects the capacity of the water for supporting life. The advent of hydro powered electricity does have several benefits as well, however. It is very efficient and effective, and accounts for about 20% of the world’s electricity, and 10% of the electricity produced in the United States (WVIC, 1994).
To understand the impacts of erecting a hydropower dam, one must first understand further the logistics of producing hydropower. There are two main types of dams used for hydropower: Gravity dams and Arch dams. Arch dams are dams that are convex, and placed in a valley with very steep sidewalls, which bear the main force of the dam. Arch dams rely on a large supporting mass in the foundation called a pulvino, which is placed beneath the soil and supports the main vertical structure of the dam.
Gravity dams rely solely on the rock bed below them for anchorage, and are placed in areas where steep, towering walls are not available. A cut-off trench is used, which extends the foundation of the dam below the surface of the soil, and serves to prevent water from infiltrating beneath the dam. In both types of dams, the area where the water is discharged after passing through the turbines is called an afterbay, while the water contained by the dam is called the reservoir.
In general, dams work by blocking large quantities of water in motion, creating massive amounts of potential energy. The water then is used to spin a turbine, or a number of turbines, which power a generator. In Vermont, the potential for hydropower applications is not necessarily ideal, but in other areas it has proven to be a major contributor to electrical production. In the country of Norway, more than 99% of the electricity used is generated through hydropower (WVIC, 1994).
Khemani, H. (2008, September 03). Risk factors for dam construction. Retrieved from
Wisconsin valley improvement company. (n.d.). Retrieved from
III. Context of Lake Champlain Basin
Hydroelectricity in the Lake Champlain Basin
Lake Champlain is a large, heterogeneous lake, comprising four distinct basins separated by a combination of geographic features and causeways constructed over shallow bars (2). The Lake Champlain basin contains 29 developed dams and according the U.S. department of Energy there are 149 accessed and identified undeveloped sites for hydroelectric potential (3). A third of Vermont’s electrical power comes from the government-owned public utility Hydro-Quebec. Recently, Vermont and Hydro-Quebec are in the process of renewing their power contracts. For Vermont, hydroelectric energy in Lake Champlain is becoming a feasible source for energy. The Vermont Public Service Board considers this form of energy economically and environmentally favorable over other alternatives (1). Vermont leads the nation in clean energy with their renewable and non-carbon emitting sources. Companies like Hydro-Quebec promote their low-emission energy and renewable source. Also, hydroelectric companies are offering to support the development of other new renewable sources (1). Lake Champlain is able to provide the source but has the challenge of meeting the increasing demand for energy. In recent years, hydropower has experienced shortages during their winter peak season. A 1998 ice storm caused damage to Quebec’s transmission system, causing loss of delivery of power from the extensive power lines in northern Quebec that feed energy down to Vermonters (1). Competing sources have been able to maintain their prices lower the hydroelectricity (1). They future of the lake and hydroelectric energy depend on the development of new sites that will be able to provide the energy needed in New England. Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, has been looking to establish a long-term contract with Hydro-Quebec, and is looking find ways to replace utilities from Vermont Yankee with hydroelectric energy. The role of Lake Champlain has become very important for its surrounding areas a renewable energy source. Corporations and governments are going to have to decide whether environmental impacts of constructing new sites are going to be outweighed by the beneficiary aspects of the energy source.
Developed and Undeveloped Hydroelectric Sites in Lake Champlain (3).
Lake Champlain does provide a renewable source of hydroelectric energy, but it comes with a negative externality that affects the lake’s fish population. There are 88 different species of fish, fifteen of them being non-native, living in the lake. Fisheries are governed by both Vermont and New York because of the lake’s geographical region Vermont Hydro Quebec is in a ten-year program since 2005 to regenerate the stock of eel in the lake. Refurbished dams in the 1960’s have caused a decline in the American eel population, who spend 10 to 20 years of their life in Lake Champlain before returning to the Atlantic Ocean for spawning (2). The Atlantic salmon population has also severely fallen from dams since their installment.
- VermontEnergyPartnership. (2005). Vermont’s Energy Future: The Hydro-Quebec Factor. Montpelier, Vermont.
- Fisheries Technical Committee of Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Cooperative. (2009). Strategic Plan For Lake Champlain Fisheries. Ray Brook, New York Waterbury, Vermont Essex Junction, Vermont.
- Department of Energy. (1996). U.S. Hydropower Resource Assessment for Vermont. Idaho Falls, Idaho: Alison M. Conner, James E. Francfort