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Introduction

Lake Champlain is a unique and invaluable resource for residents and visitors to our region. Thousands of people rely on the Lake for sustenance, inspiration, and rejuvenation. The Lake’s tributaries are the lifeblood of the ecosystem, connecting communities and habitats in the farthest reaches of the watershed to the Lake itself. The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) is committed to protecting, restoring, and preserving Lake Champlain and its watershed through collaborative partnerships and through leveraging the strength of its communities.

LCBP and its partners manage the Lake Champlain Basin with a “Pressure-State-Response” approach. In this model, “pressures” represent challenges introduced by human activities, the “state” is science-based evidence for the condition of the ecosystem, and the “response” is LCBP’s plan to protect and restore Lake Champlain and its watershed. Every three years, the State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report documents the state of the Lake’s ecosystem and provides context on how pressures from human activities have led us to this point. LCBP strives to do this through graphs of scientific measurements with clear scientific interpretation and through an Ecosystem Indicator scorecard, which provides the status and long-term trends for several important issues at a glance.

LCBP is pleased to include a new Ecosystem Indicator in this report—the first in nearly two decades—to help readers understand changes in how often the Lake freezes over and potential impacts of these warming trends on the Lake’s ecosystem. The report also includes several new figures to illustrate changing chloride levels, the relationship between phosphorus and nitrogen and possible impacts on cyanobacteria (formerly called “blue-green algae”) blooms, and access for landlocked Atlantic salmon to their historical ranges in major rivers of the Basin. A new map in the report highlights conserved lands around the Basin and public beach locations on the Lake. Public access is now more important than ever, since the COVID-19 pandemic drove people to find recreation opportunities on conserved lands, lakes, and public trail systems in new ways.

Many stories shared in this report are encouraging. Fisheries managers are reducing the number of lake trout stocked by 33%, a decision informed by the documented success of wild lake trout reproduction over several years. Surveys have shown that 60% of boaters take precautions to prevent the spread of invasive species, signaling awareness of individual responsibility in preventing invasive species introduction and spread. New programs are connecting students and adults to the history and heritage of the region and are bringing kids outside to experience and learn about their watershed.

This report also describes several ongoing challenges. The amount of nutrients delivered to the Lake from the Basin each year must be reduced to meet water quality goals, and warm weather cyanobacteria blooms continue to impact recreation in many parts of the Lake. Despite several invasive species interceptions and prevention measures, the fishhook waterflea was discovered in the Lake in 2018.

As the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world in countless ways and severely limited public engagement in 2020, many outreach and interpretation programs were postponed or transitioned to virtual platforms. Many of these new approaches to informing and involving the public will be lasting and will shape our future work to protect and restore the health of the Basin.

LCBP is working with new and existing partners to include, amplify, and translate messaging to more communities in the Lake Champlain Basin; to encourage projects and programs that look beyond traditional outreach; and to develop new approaches that will be more inclusive. This collaborative approach by all users of the Lake will help the community to achieve its shared goals for clean water, healthy ecosystems, thriving communities, and an informed and involved public.

This document is complemented by the State of the Lake website, which contains additional content, a full French translation, and citations for the scientific literature and technical reports that inform the report. Learn more at sol.lcbp.org.