A lack of public information is crippling to groups and organizations trying to prevent ecological issues such as water pollution in lakes and water bodies all over the globe. Informing the public is expensive and difficult, yet it’s a key part to solving some of society’s most intricate problems. Lake Champlain is no exception – while the Lake Champlain Basin Program and government programs spend valuable dollars trying to inform the public about the issues facing the lake, there are many obstacles that stand in the way. Generally speaking, it is difficult to portray an accurate image of the state of Lake Champlain to the public because the problems are complex, evolving over time, and do not lend themselves to the simplification needed for mass communication.
One specific problem facing Lake Champlain’s discrete pollution issue is that individuals don’t fully comprehend the lake’s role in their daily lives. For instance, when we turn on the water faucet to wash our hands, we tend not to think about where exactly that water is coming from. Furthermore, we don’t tend to think about where the water goes after it flows down the drain (along with the soap or toothpaste that’s now in it.) If more people realized that the soap they use to wash their car drains into Lake Champlain, and that the water they use to take a shower comes from Lake Champlain, perhaps they would be more apt to take their car to a car wash (where the water is properly managed under state regulations.)
Another impact of a general lack of ecological knowledge is the individual’s disconnect between Lake Champlain and the economic health of the Lake Champlain Basin. The number one industry in Vermont is tourism, and the lake attracts tourists in droves. If Lake Champlain were to become known for its pollution and unhealthy conditions, many of those tourists would simply not want to come to the region – which represents a loss in economic sustenance. Once people widely accept the connection between the lake and their local economies as common knowledge, we may see a decrease in pollutant contribution to Lake Champlain from local communities.
Understanding how pollution happens is an area of wide interest, but the specifics of it may be little known. When the news broadcasts a story about Company X “dumping” chemicals into a Lake Champlain tributary, it is easy to conjure an image of a factory worker with a hand truck and a barrel literally dumping coolant into the Otter Creek. This, however, is not generally the case. Mismanaged industrial waste ends up in Lake Champlain due to abuse of environmental codes and regulations. Problems that start off small can turn into huge issues down the road if left untouched. Small drains in the floor of production facilities seem to be a harmless way to clean the grease off the floor, but in reality, that drain may have been put in place in the 1960’s, when environmental protection was in its infancy. If the general population could comprehend what damage is caused by years and years of use of such a drain, perhaps regulations could be better focused, and as a society we could move on to solving the issues at the source.