News Feature | November 30, 2016

Researchers Claim EPA Protections Fall Short For Lake Champlain

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

Published in Environmental Research Letters, there is new research that suggests Lake Champlain is highly susceptible to climate change. It is now believed that rules created by the U.S. EPA to protect the lake may be insufficient in stopping algae blooms and water quality problems as the region gets hotter and wetter.

Comprised of 10 scientists from the University of Vermont and one from Dartmouth College, the researchers used a set of computer models that connect the behavior of social and ecological systems, per Science Daily. Their results illustrated that “accelerating climate change could easily outpace the EPA's land-use management policies aimed at reducing the inflow of pollution from agricultural runoff, parking lots, deforestation, [and] cow manure,” in addition to other sources of excess phosphorus that cause toxic algae and lake health problems.

The EPA writes that its “modeling to prepare its rules under what's called the TMDL, for ‘total maximum daily load,’ concluded that ‘any increases in the phosphorus loads to the lake due to the climate change are likely to be modest (i.e. 15%).’”

However, the eleven scientists who led the new modeling were concerned that this approach could “underestimate the range of likely outcomes in a warmer future.”

Professor Chris Koliba, a co-author and social scientist on the new study said that, "there have been extensive efforts by federal regulators, the State of Vermont, and many other stakeholders to try to remediate and improve water quality in our watersheds. These should be honored. The message of our research is not to demean that work, but to say that in the long run protecting the lake is going to take a lot more than what's being proposed right now."

“Science tells us that there is no bigger threat to American progress and prosperity than the threat of global climate change,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech on November 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Since the recent presidential election, McCarthy did admit that there is some anxiety within the EPA, per Eos. However, she added that “the train to a global clean energy future has already left the station.”

McCarthy also defended the EPA for its work in many areas, “including reducing mercury pollution from power plants, helping to bolster the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and cleaning up water bodies, including the Great Lakes.”

The new integrated assessment model is designed to be a powerful tool that goes far beyond understanding Lake Champlain.

The overall model links together "the behavior of the watershed, lake, people and climate," said Judith Van Houten, University of Vermont professor of biology and co-author on the new study. This provides "a way forward to pull back the veil that often surrounds effects of climate change," she added.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Lake, August 2011" Barnyz © 2011 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: