By Kate Kelly and Portia Butrym, Lewis Creek Association

During June and July, volunteers ranging from nurses to ornithophiles (bird lovers) paddled throughout the lively wetlands of Lake Champlain to remove European frogbit, a non-native invasive plant species, for the 16th consecutive summer.

Photo by Portia Butrym. Seven northern map turtles bask on a log at the LaPlatte River wetlands.

Photo by Portia Butrym. Seven northern map turtles bask on a log at the LaPlatte River wetlands.

In 2007, Lewis Creek Association initiated the water quality stewardship program and has since worked annually to manage the invasive plants and water quality of the rivers and streams that drain directly into Lake Champlain.

The volunteer-driven frogbit project is the result of cooperation between many individuals and groups, including the Lewis Creek Association; the towns of Charlotte, Shelburne and Hinesburg; Shelburne Bay Boat Club; and an anonymous Charlotte property owner.

European frogbit, a common aquarium plant, spread to the United States via the St. Lawrence River after it was introduced to botanical garden ponds in Ottawa in 1932. It is now considered an aquatic invasive species because it dominates native species in the competition for sunlight, nutrients and surface area.

Lewis Creek Association’s efforts have proven highly successful since discovering frogbit covering 50 percent of Town Farm Bay. Annual paddling and weeding trips, with a side of bird- and turtle-watching, have reduced the coverage of frogbit to around 4 percent cover.

In contrast, when frogbit was discovered in the wetlands of the LaPlatte River Marsh Natural Area, it had a much lower percentage cover. In Town Farm Bay, Lewis Creek Association’s program and volunteers had the opportunity for “early detection, rapid response.”

Photo by Portia Butrym. Volunteers removed 1,057 pounds of European frogbit plants from Town Farm Bay this summer.

Photo by Portia Butrym. Volunteers removed 1,057 pounds of European frogbit plants from Town Farm Bay this summer.

Though the invasive plant will never be eradicated in either location, maintaining this low population allows native plants and animals to thrive.

This summer, volunteers spent 172 hours removing 1,057 pounds of frogbit from Town Farm Bay and 30 pounds from the LaPlatte River wetlands.

Lewis Creek Association’s water quality stewardship program also includes the annual monitoring of water quality in the LaPlatte River, Patrick Brook, McCabe’s Brook, Thorp Brook, Kimball Brook and, this year, Lewis Creek, by volunteers for South Chittenden River Watch. Volunteers collect water samples, which are then analyzed by the Vermont Agricultural and Environmental Laboratory and interpreted by Lewis Creek Association technical consultants.

The sampling season has recently wrapped up and included sampling for nutrients (phosphorus, nitrogen) and chloride in order to understand sources of nutrient loading to Lake Champlain while informing water quality improvement project plans.

The 2022 results will be available on Lewis Creek Association’s website in the spring of 2023; last years’ results are available. Check out more information on water quality and what you can do to improve it on Lewis Creek Association’s YouTube channel.

This water quality stewardship program is important for maintaining productive, functioning and scenic waters and also allows residents of Charlotte, Shelburne, and Hinesburg to become advocates for water quality. Volunteers in each town help share this information with neighbors and friends, helping improve water quality in the future.

Having this program funded through your town budget is crucial, since it allows the whole community to take ownership of local water quality and natural resources that are extremely important to protect and give everyone healthier ecosystems to enjoy.

If you are interested in assisting with water quality monitoring or invasive plant removal in 2023, reach out to Kate Kelly, Lewis Creek Association program manager, or call 802-488-5203.

(Kelly is Lewis Creek Association program manager and Butrym is an intern with the organization.)