Lake Champlain provides services and resources to the surrounding area that are too many to count. Focusing specifically on the physical water that is taken from Lake Champlain, what that costs our communities, and the ecological impacts it has on the ecosystem is of vast importance when discussing the web of benefits the lake provides. At the very core of the resource web is the physical water its self – because without the water, there would be no lake.
Entropic waste is necessary to the economic transactions that occur in any economic system, and so it should not come as a surprise that due to inefficiencies in entropy management, we end up with unmanaged pollution in the large body of water that drains the land we live on. In essence, any pollution that hits the ground in the Lake Champlain basin will eventually find its way into a storm drain, stream, or river, and will ultimately pollute Lake Champlain.
To properly frame the issues facing our communities within the context of Lake Champlain specifically it’s important to understand the basic numbers of what the lake does for whom. 188,000 individuals depend on Lake Champlain as their source of drinking water. This equates to an average of 20 million gallons per day being withdrawn from Lake Champlain (Champlain Water District). This number its self is enough to justify a large scale focus on the pollutants entering Lake Champlain. There are more reasons, however. 4,000 people draw their water directly from the lake without the use of state infrastructure to supply it (Champlain Water District). Much of this water is used for summer homes on lake front property, and so it is probably mostly seasonal – but it is still of vast importance, because it exemplifies individual reliance on the Lake for drinking water. The methods that some summer camp owners use to treat lake water are not effective in treating blue-green algae toxins, and so the overall health of the lake directly impacts them.
The effects of this are felt in two major ways: as a hindrance to resource provisioning abilities from the lake, and as a huge economic expense on behalf of our society. A prime example of the economic costs associated with water pollution in Lake Champlain is the cost to upgrade waste water treatment plants. Prior to 1979, all water treatment plants operating with Lake Champlain water produced some amount of phosphorus; the cost to upgrade to non phosphorus producing facilities was 39 million dollars (1979-2001 budget). (Dept. of Environmental Conservation.) Because there are still water treatment plants that have yet to be converted to non phosphorus producing operations, the cost can only grow.
Unfortunately, lake pollution comes from numerous sources – Farm runoff, industrial waste, pharmaceuticals, and illegal dumping simply to name a few. So it is unrealistic to put a monetary value on the cost to society pollution creates within the Lake Champlain basin, it is too large a figure, with ever changing pollution contributions. One figure that is particularly hard to put a finger on is the cost of the lake’s inability to provide healthy fish for human consumption. There are 98 fish and tackle stores within ten miles of Lake Champlain, these stores estimated that in 1997, 5.6 million dollars were spent on fishing equipment in direct relation to Lake Champlain fishing (Lake Champlain Basin Program). If 5.6 million dollars were spent on fishing equipment specifically meant for fishing a lake where mercury inhibits the human consumption of fish, perhaps the industry could support more families if the lake water could support healthy fish. Healthier fish equate to an increase in fishing, which equates to an increase in fishing equipment sales.
The costs associated with human water pollution in Lake Champlain thus far have been pretty straight forward, if not incalculable. However, these economic costs which tax society are only those easily seen through surface investigation. For example, when we think about the ramifications Lake Champlain’s pollution has on society we do not typically question the cost of Natural Resources programs in college level learning environments. Would there be a need to produce natural resources majors if there were no natural resources issues to be solved? And, isn’t Lake Champlain a part of the overall scheme of global resource planning and management? This may seem superficial and idealistic, but it does cost society when individuals decide to focus on issues that could otherwise be minimized through proper management at the source. Imagine if every government dollar that is spent on supporting natural resources curricula could be spent on healthcare, or other public welfare projects. The point is, Lake Champlain may seem insignificant in contrast to other ecological problems on the global scale, but it is in fact a very specific challenge our society must meet; its impacts are certainly detrimental.
Obviously there is not a single answer to solve the many water problems Lake Champlain has experienced over its short industrialized life. If we solve the issues at the source, instead of masking them in the lake with arbitrary solutions, perhaps we can achieve a system of benefits and costs that enables our society to grow, the lake to flourish, and future generations to enjoy the Lake in its natural beauty.
Dept. of Environmental Conservation. (2008). Governer’s Clean and Clear Action Plan (par 4). Retrieved May 1, 2010, from Vermont Clean and Clear website: http://www.anr.state.vt.us/cleanandclear/ww.htm
Lake Champlain Basin Program People & Economy. (2004) (par 10). Retrieved May 1, 2010, from http://www.lcbp.org/Atlas/HTML/so_econ.htm
Lake Champlain Basin Program. Drinking water.
Retrieved from “http://www.lcbp.org/drinkwater.htm” _http://www.lcbp.org/drinkwater.htm.