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High Heat + Precipitation = Blue-Green Algae Blooms In Vermont

A sign saying the beach is closed due to blue green algae.
Elodie Reed
VPR File
Burlington's Oakledge Park Cove Beach was closed Friday because of blue-green algae. Hot temperatures over the weekend, combined with previous precipitation, make perfect conditions for cyanobacteria. Blooms can produce toxins harmful to people and pets.

Temperatures boiled above 90 degrees Fahrenheit Friday afternoon, so sisters Margaret and Rosemary Mannix fancied a swim.

The pair — visiting their mother from Alaska and Oregon, respectively — took a drive over to Oakledge Park's Cove Beach in Burlington. That's where they saw the red signs staked into the ground: "Beach Closed Due To Blue Green Algae."

The state issued a warning for "extreme heat and humidity" this weekend, and that hot and muggy weather makes for prime conditions for blooms of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. This is all further aggravated by the recent rain.

Vermont's Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said heavy precipitation can feed phosphorus into waterways. Phosphorus acts as a fertilizer for cyanobacteria.

"We know that most of phosphorus pollution reaching Lake Champlain and our inland lakes and ponds occurs as a result of snowmelt and rainfall, which we've had in spades," Moore said. "So I wouldn't say it's unanticipated, but it's really a complex set of circumstances that involve temperature, wind — or really lack thereof — as well as sort of spring conditions that we believe all contribute to the frequency and the intensity of harmful algal blooms."

"We know that most of phosphorus pollution reaching Lake Champlain and our inland lakes and ponds occurs as a result of snowmelt and rainfall, which we've had in spades." — Julie Moore, Vermont Natural Resources Secretary

As Vermont grapples with its water quality problems, State Auditor Doug Hoffer noted in a recent report that 95% of the state's water quality spending does not show measurable phosphorus reductions.

Moore said some of that spending is in accordance with state and federal requirements, and that she and other officials are working hard to quantify results of water quality work.

Gov. Phil Scott's office also released a written statement Friday with a letter from theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency endorsing Act 76. That law, passed this year, provides about $25 million a year in lake cleanup funding, as well as a project delivery structure.

In the meantime, beaches in the Burlington area, as well as locations near St. Albans, have seen high levels of the algae this summer. The blooms can produce toxins harmful to both people and pets.

Planning to swim? Check the Department of Health's blue-green algae tracking page first.

After seeing the warning sign at Oakledge, Rosemary Mannix declared it a "bummer," but she and her sister weren't risking it.

When a group of young people passed them, undeterred, Margaret Mannix told them, "You can go first."

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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