Did you visit one of Vermont’s many lakes this summer?
Maybe you launched a vessel at one of the many fishing accesses around the state and were approached to have it inspected by a Greeter. You may have wondered who manages that program, and who works to make sure Vermont’s lakes and ponds are protected and remain clean and healthy.
Since nearly all of Vermont’s lakes and ponds are public waters held in trust by the state, you might think that it is the responsibility of the state. Vermont statute places this responsibility with the Agency of Natural Resources. Within the agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, in conjunction with other agency departments, is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the state’s public waters.
However, with over 800 lakes and ponds in Vermont, it’s not possible for the relatively small Department of Environmental Conservation staff to do all that is necessary to preserve and protect the state’s public waters. For that reason, the state partners with various conservation, watershed and lake groups to help with the work necessary to monitor and protect Vermont’s water resources.
So, who is doing the work on the ground (and in the lake) to protect Vermont’s waterbodies?
Department of Environmental Conservation staff provide training and guidance, oversight, technical assistance and standards, and management of project permitting. Department of Environmental Conservation staff scientists also conduct important research, and data collection and analysis. However, much of the “hands-on” work necessary to protect the state’s public waters falls to volunteer lake and watershed associations that partner with the state.
Let’s look at some examples of the fantastic work being done by Vermont’s lake associations and preservation groups.
The previously mentioned Greeter Program is an integral component of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s overall plan to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, and nearly all the greeter programs on inland lakes are managed by volunteer lake associations. Greeters inspect vessels and equipment entering and leaving lakes to ensure they are not transporting aquatic invasive species, along with educating boaters about the dangers of aquatic invasive species.
Greeter Programs are only one element in the fight against aquatic invasive species. Some 100 of the state’s lakes and ponds are already infested with some type of invasive. While the greeters are instrumental in preventing further spread, it is equally important that those lakes already infested work to control and reduce the level of infestation to decrease the possibility of that infestation being carried to other lakes and to restore a more balanced aquatic ecosystem. The most widespread invasive in our lakes is Eurasian watermilfoil, a biological pollutant that can spread quickly, damaging aquatic habitats and reducing water quality.
The work to control, reduce and, where possible, eradicate milfoil is complicated and costly. Control methods include hand pulling, diver-assisted suction harvesting, bottom barriers and herbicide.
Unfortunately, the state provides very little funding for the prevention and control of aquatic invasive species. In 2023, the state’s grant-in-aid program only supplied up to 25 percent of a lake’s total project cost. It’s left to the volunteer lake associations to close the gap by fundraising.
All of this may sound like more than enough for volunteer lake associations to do, but what about water quality?
Once again, it’s these volunteer groups and their local partners, like Natural Resource Conservation Districts, that are implementing water quality improvement projects at their lakes and ponds.
Some of these water quality improvement programs include: water sampling, mitigating stormwater runoff carrying phosphorus into lakes, performing Vermont invasive patroller paddles looking for new introductions of aquatic invasive species and monitoring for cyanobacteria (harmful algae blooms) and other lake conditions throughout the summer.
But wait, there’s more.
These volunteer groups also carry out extensive educational activities, keeping lake communities informed of best practices, helping lake property owners with lake-friendly landscaping to protect shorelines (Lake Wise), working to address polluted runoff from roads entering lakes and providing free boating education classes.
But it’s not all work. Many lake associations also organize community events such as boat parades, rewarding volunteer opportunities, annual meetings, educational events, ice-out contests and many more.
These associations and volunteer groups undertake so much work because they believe that we are all stewards of our natural resources, and as such, it is the responsibility of the entire community to protect, preserve and enhance the health of the state’s public waters. Working in partnership with state agencies and other conservation organizations, these volunteers are indispensable to ensuring the health of the state’s waters for future generations.
If you love Vermont’s lakes, ponds and waterways, take a minute to thank your local lake and watershed associations and the volunteers who devote countless hours of their time to preserve these precious natural resources for all of us. Please consider a donation to a lake or watershed association.
Without your support, these groups can’t continue to do this important work – and if they don’t do it, who will?
Please see an extended version of this commentary on our website.
(Jerremy Jones lives in Poultney and is a member of the Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds; Pat Suozzi lives in Hinesburg and is the president of the Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds.)