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Vermont Public’s weekly dose of all things environment.

Out There: How’s the water?

This is the web version of our email newsletter, Out There! Sign up to get our weekly dose of all things environment — from creatures you might encounter on your next stroll, to a critical look at the state's energy transition, plus ways to take part in community science and a roundup of local outdoor events.

It’s Thursday, August 24. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • More mosquitoes, more problems
  • Poison ivy take over
  • A colorless parasitic flower

But first,

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Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


130 hazardous material spills

An aerial image of a winding river meeting the lake. It shows sediment (shows in light blue) dumping into the lake.
University of Vermont
Planet Labs PBC
At the peak of the flooding in July, more than 4 billion gallons of water flowed into Lake Champlain every hour. This image over the Winooski River was captured on July 17.

The floods last monthdumped a lot of junk into Vermont’s waters: sewage spilled from dozens of compromised wastewater facilities, #2 fuel oil, diesel and kerosene leaked from fuel tanks that overturned in backyards and basements, and oil and sludge pooled in farm fields. In Barre, a hazardous waste site flooded sending spent lithium-ion batteries and a thousand pounds worth of lightbulbs into the environment.

Most hazardous waste won't cause long term damage to Vermont's rivers, according to state officials. They say the biggest threat to water quality after flooding? Phosphorus.

  • 🤮 The Lamoille River carried more than a year’s worth of phosphorus into Lake Champlain over the course of about a week — twice what the river deposited during Tropical Storm Irene.
  • 🚱 Too much phosphorus can lead to cyanobacteria and algae blooms and starve lakes of oxygen.
  • ⛈ This flooding event alone wasn’t enough to permanently jeopardize water quality in Lake Champlain. But several floods in short succession could be a real issue.
  • ⛑ What can be done to protect water quality in Vermont:

    • 🌾Protect and restore wetlands, which stop nutrient runoff and slow floodwaters.
    • 🔬Install green stormwater infrastructure in cities and towns and devote funding to monitor for chemical contaminants in lakes.
    • 🦺Make sure your fuel tank is secured before heavy rains. 

In other news

☀️ A stretch of sunny days: That means farmers can finally harvest hay to use as animal feed. It’s been a brutal year for hay production. “We waited, and then waited, waited, waited. And then it just kept raining and raining and raining and raining," a farmer in Underhill told us this week. "Here we are in August, and we're still struggling to get a first cut off from this field.” More than 60% of farmers said they anticipate not having enough feed or problems with feed quality in a recent state survey.

😬 Poison ivy is getting worse: Warmer temperatures and more CO2 in the atmosphere means poison ivy is poised to grow both LARGER and be more TOXIC. Plus, the season is starting earlier. The best way to protect yourself? Know what this itchy plant looks like. Our friends at WBUR created this quiz to test your knowledge. If you do have a run in with poison ivy, you can try cortisone cream or calamine lotion to get some relief.

🦟 Mosquitoes are the worst: For the first time in eight years, mosquitoes in Vermonttested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE. It’s a disease that usually doesn’t cause any symptoms, but in rare cases can lead to inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. The virus was first detected in Vermont in 2011 when a flock of emus got sick. Since then, several horses and two people have died in Vermont from infections. There’s no vaccine for people, and public health experts say to avoid mosquito bites by covering up, use repellent, and avoid buggy areas at dawn and dusk.

🚍 A win for electric school buses: They have the state’s seal of approval as reliable enough for Vermont’s harsh winters and mountainous terrain. That's according to a recent assessment of four pilot programs in Vermont. And while the buses are expensive, the report found they save money on fuel and maintenance costs, and significantly reduce harmful emissions.

In your backyard

An illustration of drooping, pink flowers against a dark-colored background
Reed Nye
Vermont Public
Ghost pipes or ghost plants are often mistaken for fungi, but they are indeed plants. Just plants without chlorophyll.

Get out there

🌅Sunset paddle on the Missisquoi: This evening, August 24, in Enosburgh, the conservation commission is hosting a trip down the river. They’re offering free kayak and canoe rentals, first come, first served.

🤸 Nature romp: A free, guided exploration that could feature wildlife tracking, nature journaling, river wading, dragonfly chasing, birdwatching or stone wall exploring -- you won't know until it starts. Meet Sunday morning at 10 am at the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier. Wear shoes that you can walk comfortably in and be ready to walk up to a mile. If you have accessibility or mobility considerations, reach out ahead of time.

🌻12-foot tall sunflowers: You can see sunflowers in bloom all over the state, but to see hundreds of varieties all in one place go to Billings Farm in Woodstock. The sunflower garden will be open for several more weeks. Adult tickets are $17.

🌕 A blue moon: This August will have two full moons. Our next one is on the night of August 30, when the moon will be just over 222,000 miles away — the closest it will get to Earth all year.

One last thing

A bee visits a flower in a lawn with white clover
Dennis Wong/Getty Images/iStockphoto
White clover is one of the plants recommended for a pollinator-friendly lawn.

A lawn for happy bees:

If you're game to change up your lawn to be bee-friendly, try this recipe from the University of Minnesota:

  • 🌱 Seed your lawn with tall, thin grass like fine fescue. Other plants and flowers can easily grow through it.
  • ✂️ In late fall or early spring, cut your lawn grass down very short — around an inch tall.
  • 🕳️ Aerate the ground to break up the soil and create air holes.
  • 🌷 Then mix up some flower seeds! You can try white clover, Prunella or "heal-all," and creeping thyme — you can buy commercial blends of these mixtures. You'll need four to five pounds for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.
  • 🚿 Sow your flower seed mixture and water it well. Doing this in the dormant season, like late fall or early spring, helps the seed get settled and start growing before the weeds and grass do.
  • 🐝 In spring, when the lawn grass does start coming up, the flowers will come up, too. It may take a few seasons to come in fully, but once it's in, you'll have a flowering green space providing essential nectar and pollen. Maintain your bee lawn with occasional mowing, to about 3 inches high, and enjoy your new bee visitors.

Enter your email to sign up for Out There
Vermont Public's biweekly dose of all things environment.


Thanks for reading! If you have ideas for events we should feature, critters, fungi or plants you want to learn more about, or other feedback, we'd love to hear from you! Just email us.

Credits: This week’s edition was put together by Lexi Krupp, Mary Engisch and Brittany Patterson with lots of help from the Vermont Public team, including graphics by Laura Nakasaka and Sophie Stephens.

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