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Clean Water

Drinkable Fishable and Swimmable Water

Lake Champlain provides high-quality drinking water to more than 145,000 people.

Lake Champlain is a safe and reliable source of drinking water to approximately 24% of the Basin’s population. There are 100 public water suppliers in the Lake Champlain Basin that pump, treat, and distribute water for use and consumption. As is true throughout much of the world, consuming untreated water is considered unsafe and is not recommended.

All public water utilities are required to monitor for 86 potential contaminants in drinking water, including several microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection by-products, inorganic and organic contaminants, and radionuclides. Drinking water from Lake Champlain rarely exceeds limits for any of these contaminants.

Lake Champlain fish can be safely enjoyed as part of a healthy diet when consumption advisories are followed.

Fishing is an important way that communities in the Basin connect with the Lake Champlain ecosystem. New York, Vermont, and Québec have each determined safe fish consumption levels for their jurisdictions to provide guidance to anglers.

Mercury biomagnifies through the food chain, which means that older, larger predatory fish typically contain more mercury than smaller fish. Therefore, a small species such as yellow perch will generally contain lower levels of mercury than lake trout, a larger predatory fish. Because children and women of childbearing age may be more susceptible to negative effects of mercury consumption, advisories are sometimes more restrictive for these groups.

Local and national efforts have resulted in decreases in mercury concentration in several Lake Champlain fish species. This was particularly true from the 1990s until 2011, when mercury decreased in nearly all fish species sampled (Figure 1). Between 2011 and 2017, however, the trend reversed, and mercury was found to have increased in all species sampled. The reason for this reversal is unclear, and research is underway to investigate potential causes for the change.

Figure 1 | Mercury concentration in Lake Champlain fish tissue

The Lake Champlain Basin’s rivers and lakes are safe for swimming at most times.

boy swimming
Photo: Rachel Hamm Vaughan

The Lake Champlain Basin provides countless opportunities for swimming with its 587 miles of shoreline, 54 public beaches on the Lake, and hundreds of river swimming holes. For most of the swimming season, beaches in most places on Lake Champlain are safe and open to the public. When considered together, the 17 public beaches included in Figure 2 were open for swimming about 97% of the time from Memorial Day to Labor Day during the 2018–2020 timeframe. When a public beach is closed for health concerns, it is usually a result of a cyanobacteria bloom, which caused closures about 2% of the days during this time frame, or elevated levels of coliform bacteria, which caused closures less than 1% of the days. Although several of these beaches had very few or no closures in 2018–2020, St. Albans Bay Park was affected the most and was open 87.5% of the time.

Figure 2 | Reported public beach closures on Lake Champlain