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Communities that thrive economically and socially and have the capacity to take action on environmental issues are cornerstones of healthy watersheds. Citizens throughout the Basin are working to create and maintain a culture of clean water. Their efforts to improve access to natural and cultural resources have led to a stronger stewardship ethic and a greater sense of place. The work of municipalities, conservation districts, and local watershed organizations to improve water quality and habitat has also made them better prepared for climate change and flood hazards.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

In addition to contributing to healthy ecosystems and improved human health, clean water also provides economic benefits.

As threats to water quality and habitat—particularly those magnified by a changing climate—have become more acute, local leaders are intensifying their focus on efforts to minimize the threats and adapt to climate change and its effects. Undesirable lake conditions such as cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) blooms have caught the public’s attention. Catastrophic events also shape attitudes and actions at the local level. In 2011, spring lake flooding and Tropical Storm Irene together damaged several thousand homes in New York, Québec, and Vermont, and caused millions of dollars in other damages.

Economics of clean water infographicIn 2016, a University of Vermont (UVM) study supported with LCBP funding examined property values, tourism expenditures, and regional economic data to assess the economic impacts of clean water. The researchers predicted that a decline in water quality could result in a $16.8 million decrease in summertime economic activity. They also found that deterioration in water clarity could cause home values to drop as much as 37%. This scenario was borne out in the same year as the study was released, when assessed property values for several shoreline homes in Georgia, Vermont, decreased after cyanobacteria blooms reduced lake use for these properties. Unsurprisingly, improvements in water quality have the opposite influence on property values: the UVM study found that if the new phosphorus standards in Vermont are met and water clarity increases, the values of homes in lakeshore areas could increase by more than $15,000.

Throughout the watershed, local communities are seizing opportunities to address water quality challenges in ways that also save money.

Grant programs from the LCBP and our state and provincial partners support many projects that improve water quality and ecosystem health and foster climate change adaptation and flood resilience. Watershed groups, municipalities, conservation districts, and other organizations have implemented projects that increase the efficiency of road salt application, update road maintenance programs to prevent erosion and reduce repair costs, and install green infrastructure that reduces investment in more expensive traditional infrastructure.

A 2016 state municipal grant program helped 186 Vermont towns get a jump on a new general stormwater permit for roads by bringing forty miles of roads up to current standards. In New York, state water quality improvement program grants have allowed the Clinton and Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation Districts to implement best management practices throughout New York’s portion of the Basin as part of a roadside erosion plan. In Québec, the Memphremagog and Brome-Missisquoi regional county municipalities have implemented programs to train road crews and other municipal staff on erosion control and stormwater management techniques.

Communities in the watershed are taking important steps to enhance resilience to severe flood events.

In 2015 and 2017, the LCBP’s local grant program included a focus on flood resilience. These grants targeted projects that enhance the ability of communities to adapt to climate change and to withstand and recover from the impacts of severe events. The projects included community outreach, design and implementation of streambank stabilization and other stormwater mitigation projects, and establishment of river corridor easements.

Since 2011, many communities across the Lake Champlain Basin have taken important steps to become more flood resilient. A third of the communities in Vermont have protected river corridors or floodplains from further losses. More than half have adopted Local Hazard Mitigation Plans or are in the process of doing so (up from 35% in 2014), and 80% have Emergency Operations Plans in place (up from 36% in 2014).

The New York Rising Community Reconstruction Plan for the Towns of Jay and Keene identified a suite of projects to rebuild and implement flood resilience strategies in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. And in the upper reaches of the Missisquoi River in Québec, the Memphremagog Regional County Municipality has launched an initiative to examine the consequences of climate change and conduct a vulnerability analysis that will be used to help municipalities develop adaptation strategies.

riparian planting

Riparian plantings help communities become more resilient to flooding events. Photo: Wildlife Management Institute.