Guest Column

Without a healthy lake, we break

July 29, 2010

By Ross Saxton

“I don’t go in the lake, so I don’t give a sh!%.”

This quote, which is directly from a resident who lives on Lake Champlain, describes the unfortunate attitude that some people have toward the lake’s health and safety. You don’t need to go in the lake to be affected by it; you just need to live somewhat near the lake to feel its effects — whether it be physically, economically or its influence on the quality of your life.

If Lake Champlain disappeared tomorrow, a lot of Vermonters and New Yorkers would be out of not just a job, but also a lifestyle. We have two options — we can keep doing what we’re currently doing and let lake pollution get out of control, or we can each make a few small changes and bring the lake we love and know back to a safe, clean and economic magnet that will pay dividends now and into the future. I know, the lake obviously won’t disappear overnight, but if we keep polluting it with things such as septic waste, dog feces, pesticides, personal care products and phosphorous from our lawns and farms, it might as well not even exist. What’s the point of being next to a lake that no one can (or wants to) swim in, fish in, boat on, drink from or smell?

Much of our local economy would evaporate if the lake becomes more undesirable. Our superior quality of life, one of the primary reasons many of us live here in Vermont, will go belly-up if we don’t do something soon. Our property values would also take a hit. Don’t forget where our drinking and bathing water comes from, either — more pollution in the lake means more chemicals in our tap water and more taxes to buy and administer these chemicals. If we do the necessary things to reduce our own impact on the lake, stormwater fees, like Burlington and South Burlington currently have, can be reduced, or prevented in the case of towns such as Colchester and Shelburne.

But the Green Mountains and forests aren’t going anywhere, so we would at least still have those to support our economy … right? Maybe not, if our past behavior toward the lake is similar toward our forests.

The connection between our forested mountains and the lake is quite intimate, so while we focus our attention to the small things we can do for the lake, like cutting our grass 3 inches or higher, only applying necessary fertilizers to our lawns and redirecting downspouts away from roads and driveways, it is also essential to make sure that development is done in a way that has minimal affects on our waterways and water bodies. Maintaining naturally vegetated buffers of 50 continuous feet away from surface waters is a great example of a smart development approach that will benefit our waterways and us.

The great thing is that a few easy and unobtrusive changes in our behavior can have a significantly positive influence on the lake, which in return will reward us with incomparable economic and quality of life benefits. Together, with these small and simple changes, we can choose to keep our children healthy, maintain fish and other native aquatic species in the lake and keep money in our pockets. What’s your choice?

Ross Saxton is the program manager for the BLUESM Certification Program at Colchester-based Tethys Corp. Ross can be reached at 383-8400 or