Beautiful tourist lake fouled with cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria bloom (on Lake Champlain, not Lake Fairlee).

by Woody Laidlaw, Community News Service

Fairlee residents expressed frustration Monday September 19 that they’ve been kept in the dark by officials about cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Morey and that leaders have done too little to deal with the situation.

A half-dozen residents that night criticized the Fairlee Selectboard, along with state regulators, for their seemingly slow response to the spread of toxic blue-green algae blooms on the lake, a popular swimming site and draw for tourists.

Their concerns ran the gamut: complaints about where signs letting people know about the blooms are posted, the impact the algae can have on air quality and what they see as poor communication about a huge problem.

“I’m worried that there should be more notices to people about how nasty this stuff is,” said resident Donna Richardson, who said she has suffered “adverse health effects” from the algae.

Lake Morey Protective Association member Laura Tucker said the governmental response has been disjointed.

“There needs to be a group [with a central point of contact] to pursue solutions.”

When pressed about the frustrations, selectboard chair Peter Berger painted a bleak picture: “We have not seen anything like this before.”

Citing 30 years of data, he said blooms as large as 15 square feet have been sighted on the lake.

Community members raised concerns that boats or people could disturb the surface of the water and cause the algae to spread — miles, by some estimates. Other residents sought insight into what the state is testing at the lake.

Landowner Debbie Leach raised concerns about the possible presence of a neurotoxin, known as BMAA, in the water table. Blue-green algae produces the toxin, long-term exposure to which has been linked with brain disorders. She said the blooms could cost up to $1 million to clean up, an assessment Berger agreed with.

Leach said she believes the buildup of cyanobacteria in the lake can in part be traced to lakeside properties and their septic conditions. Her husband Ted argued that wastewater and other contaminants had settled along the bottom of the lake over the last two centuries of development.

He presented a report to the selectboard that suggested most contamination is “in the deepest parts of the lake,” citing the presence of camps and other old structures that may have leaky septic systems.

He presented a report to the selectboard that suggested most contamination is “in the deepest parts of the lake,” citing the presence of camps and other old structures that may have leaky septic systems.

Looking ahead, a public hearing is scheduled for Sep. 26 to decide whether the town’s moratorium on developments labeled conditional use will continue. The town put a halt to those developments so officials could update zoning bylaws to ensure the town’s ability to perform septic review of lake-adjacent properties.

“The town has no way of initiating a septic review on lakeside properties,” said Berger, explaining that there are jurisdictional barriers to monitoring the systems at homes along the lake.

Selectboard members say they want to lift the moratorium in early 2023.

After the meeting, town officials said they are working on mitigation but there are no quick fixes. On Tuesday afternoon, the selectboard and town health officer Chris Brimmer issued the following statement:

“The worst cyanobacteria bloom in recent memory continues into its third week. The town represented by the selectboard, and its health officer have been working with both state officials and local organization Lake Morey Commission to collect data and discuss the long term solutions to what appears to be a problem that may well reoccur on a regular basis.

“In the near term residents and visitors to Lake Morey are urged to avoid contact with lake water and to keep children and pets out of the water. There have been reports of air quality issues associated with the bloom cycle and caution is urged when exposed.”

Categories: Environment

4 replies »

  1. There are projects using pumped air into the bottom of lakes to oxygenate the nutrient rich water to increase bacterial life as well as higher animals, cray fish, and fish.
    Fairlee has access to high wind prone areas. A wind turbine running air compressors could operate as the wind is available. Bubbling air up from the bottom circulates the water column bringing air and nutrients up to provide a healthy condition for cleaning the water, purifying it by natural processes. )think of a fish tank) No power required, no chemicals, no hazards.
    Experts: “couldn’t possibly work”. 🤬

  2. Cynanobacteria is a source of BMAA, a neurotoxic agent. Incidence maps of ALS around blue-green algae lakes show a real problem that goes widely ignored by authorities. Are they going to say that Lake Champlain is a biohazard? Of course not. Look up Elliot Stommel’s work at Dartmouth on blue-green algae, BMAAs and ALS. Be sure you’re sitting down when you read it.

  3. So stop with the round up ready crops which phosphorus is running off into local waterways!! It isn’t the farmers it is the corporate farms. Our farmers need to be able to farm using the old ways: ie manure which builds topsoil. It has been proven that this is where it originates.

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