Lower water levels change lake’s ecosystem


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A recent water level drop in Lake Champlain has affected both the lake’s ecosystem and residents using the lake.

On Oct. 26, the depth of Lake Champlain at the King Street Ferry Dock was 93.78 feet, a foot lower than the historical average on this date, according to the National Weather Service.

“When the water level is this low it is very noticeable on slowly sloping beaches,” she said. “Houses on the beach are

SABRINA HOOD | THE VERMONT CYNIC

SABRINA HOOD | The Vermont Cynic

much farther from the shore this year.”

Little snowfall last winter and a dry spring caused a decrease in the levels, said Laura Hollowell, resource room specialist for the Lake Champlain Basin Program, a program that works with states surrounding Lake Champlain to coordinate efforts to maintain the lake’s water quality and wildlife.

The natural bedrock dam at the north end of the lake prevents water from flowing into the lake when there isn’t enough stream water to get over the dam, Geology Professor Stephen Wright said.

The lowest average water level on record for Oct. 26 was in 1908 at 92.81 feet. That year, Burlington experienced a drought, Hollowell said

The UVM sailing team noticed the changes in the water depths and said it made them more cautious with their boats.

Parts of the boats the team uses extend deep into the water, sophomore Haley Brown said.

“With lower lake levels, it is easier to hit and scrape the bottom of the lake with the centerboards and keels and get our boats stuck in shallow areas,” Brown said.

Low levels also have various effects on species and habitats that live near the lake, Hollowell said.

“A coworker of mine took this picture of the freshwater mussels at one of the big river mouths,” Hollowell said. “The water levels were so low that you could see tracks in the sand of them trying to move to find water.”

Students say they’ve noticed an effect on the wetlands in the surrounding area.

Graduate student Matthew Kraft said a wetland in St. Albans was all sand this year.

Some migrating birds, however, benefit from the exposed beaches and sandbars.

If these sites were not visible they would simply fly over, as opposed to stopping to rest, which also means that bird watching by the lake was especially good this fall, Hollowell said.

Wright said the low water levels this year year provide a good opportunity to study some of the rock that is newly exposed, especially in South Hero.

This year should not have any long-term detrimental effects on the Lake Champlain ecosystem, Hollowell said.

“It is hard to tell if this will be a trend because the past few years lake levels were especially high due to Hurricane Irene,” she said.