Champlain Islands organizations launch Keeler Bay study

Keeler Bay. Photo via Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife

Michele Gammal, owner of Keeler Bay Marina in South Hero, said her husband and co-owner Michael is building an aquatic weed harvester this year. If completed in time, the machine should help weed out plants that can choke out their docks in the summer.

When neighbors in the small island town heard about the project, Michele Gammal said, they also asked for help cleaning up the shores of their properties.

“It impacts the whole bay,” she said of aquatic plant growth. “It’s not just us.”

Two Lake Champlain Island organizations plan to study the impact of land use in South Hero on water quality in the city’s Keeler Bay. They also plan to develop projects that could limit the amount of nutrients and sediment entering the water.

Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are needed to grow any type of plant, but when high levels of them enter a body of water, they can cause excessive growth.

Keeler Bay is part of the eastern shore of South Hero in the northeast arm of Lake Champlain, a segment that has seen increasing phosphorus concentrations in recent decades, according to Data of the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

The bay, a popular location for boating, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities, is important to South Hero’s economy. It is also the source of drinking water for the approximately 750 inhabitants of the municipality of approximately 1,700 inhabitants, including the Gammals.

But there has never been a comprehensive survey of Keeler Bay and the watershed around it, said Molly Varner, project manager at the Grand Isle County Natural Resources Conservation District. His organization is leading the study with the South Hero Land Trust, a group that also supports local conservation efforts.

“For such an integral body of water that is part of the islands,” Varner said, “there was a real lack of any sort of systematic analysis of water quality and habitat stressors.”

According to Varner, the planners aim to come out of the study with a report similar to a Lake Watershed Action Planthat authorities have developed for other water bodies in Vermont, including Lake Elmore and Lake Eden in Lamoille County.

According to the National Agency for Natural Resources, these projects answer the questions: “What issues most threaten the health of our lake?” and “What can we do about them?” They include a list of recommended projects sorted by priority level.

Varner noted that the state’s most recent (2020) tactical basin plan for northern Lake Champlain called for further study impacts of stormwater runoff on Keeler Bay.

As part of the latest study, Varner said planners will use maps, field surveys and existing water quality data to paint a more complete picture of runoff sources in the bay. She cited small streams, wetlands and private roads as potential sources.

Planners will then develop 20 to 30 projects that would improve water quality in the bay, with a focus on reducing phosphorus entering the water, she said. Of these, they will select a handful to partially design and align with funding opportunities.

Projects could include planting trees along streams or lakesides, repairing failing culverts and building rain gardens or swales, Varner said. Work is expected to begin this summer, funded by a grant of approximately $40,000 from the Basin Program.

South Hero is a largely agricultural community, although the city’s two designated village centers, which have relatively dense development, border Keeler Bay.

Guy Maguire, director of programs at the South Hero Land Trust, said that while phosphorus has accumulated in the bay’s watershed after decades of agricultural work, the study planners are not just looking to blame farmers. for water quality problems.

He pointed Data of the basin program showing that the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Champlain per square mile from agriculture is less than half the amount per square mile entering the lake from developed land.

Varner said the invasive Eurasian Watermilfoil, commonly known as Eurasian watermilfoil, has been a nuisance to people living and recreating around Keeler Bay. Feathery grass can make it unpleasant and difficult for people to swim or boat in the water, she said.

To be sure, she noted that the amount of plant growth is tied to factors other than nutrient runoff, including lake temperature and water level.

“The lake is higher this year so it’s not as bad,” said Gammal, from the marina. But she said last summer – when the lake level was often below average – “was awful.”

Varner said there were also occasional blue-green algal blooms in Keeler Bay, although they were less frequent than in other parts of the Northeast Arm, such as Missisquoi Bay.

The organizations leading the study have no regulatory powers, she noted, so planners rely on the cooperation of local landowners. They held an event at a farm in town on July 7 to discuss local water quality, and about two dozen people showed up.

“We want the assessment to be really community-driven,” she said. “As we move forward with the development of this assessment, we want people to say, ‘Hey, we’d like you to rate our coastline.'”

Don’t miss a thing. Sign up here to receive VTDigger’s weekly email on the energy industry and the environment.

Check Also

Will solve Delhi’s water crisis if elected to office in city polls: Congress

The MCD elections will take place on December 4 and the counting will take place …