Missisquoi Bay, Lake Champlain and Richelieu River

Category

Lake Champlain, Missisquoi Bay and Richelieu River continue to suffer from excessive loads of nutrients and harmful algal blooms (HABs). Lake Champlain, shared between New York and Vermont, flows northwards into the Richelieu River eventually into the St. Lawrence River. Although significant work has been done in Canada and the United States on water quality across the system, ecological conditions have not improved. As a consequence, the public has high expectations that existing and planned efforts will improve water quality. As the International Joint Commission (IJC) already has a major study underway in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River, an important communication goal of this work plan is to distinguish between the 2016 flooding request from governments and this water quality related request, while reconciling parallel activities that may support both.

Strategy

The strategy that the IJC will use to deliver on this study includes a review of the state of knowledge regarding nutrient loading issues in the system, networking with key agencies, and partnering with basin organizations to communicate and clarify the mandate of the IJC pertaining to this study. The strategy will also aim to solicit public input on findings from the study, including existing binational approaches that focus on nutrient load reduction and the causes of HABs. As a result of these activities, the IJC – in collaboration with pertinent agencies and organizations – will develop recommendations for the governments to enhance binational efforts, approaches and coordination concerning nutrient load reduction efforts and the factors responsible for HABs for Lake Champlain, Missisquoi Bay and the Richelieu River.

From the onset of the study, the IJC will have ongoing dialogue with elected officials, senior departmental representatives, stakeholders and the public. During the first year of the study, efforts will focus on gathering and reviewing information, networking with key agencies and academic institutions, and partnering with basin organizations towards a collective understanding of the current state of knowledge of the issues. To strengthen existing efforts and accelerate progress, collaborative binational mechanisms (e.g., integrated watershed resource management approaches) will also be reviewed.

Public engagement could include maintaining an informative and up-to-date IJC website and an active profile on social media, developing pamphlets and brochures, and producing news releases and newsletters. Public consultations will also be held in the second year. All communications products and reports will be available in English and in French. For the Missisquoi Bay sub-watershed and other regions around the lake and the river, local newspapers will also be used. To facilitate meaningful engagement with people and stakeholders in the basin on both sides of the border, the IJC will work with watershed organizations (e.g., the Lake Champlain Basin Program [LCBP] and l’Organisme de bassin versant de la baie Missisquoi (OBVBM) to hold targeted meetings.

Considerations

The impacts of nutrient loading are not distributed equally across the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River system. The most severe impacts of nutrient loading are occurring in Missisquoi Bay, a relatively shallow bay on the northeastern shores of Lake Champlain, shared by Quebec and Vermont, which has been the subject of past requests from governments to the IJC.

Efforts will focus on those areas most affected by nutrient issues, including Missisquoi Bay and St. Albans Bay; however, a binational system-wide analysis of nutrient sources and impacts will be performed to provide benefits to other locations. This system-wide perspective enables consideration of how water quality is affected by watershed hydrology and the hydrodynamics of rivers and lakes. Knowledge generated through the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River flooding request will be relevant to a broader integration of factors that may affect water quality.

Work Plan

To deliver on the requests of governments regarding Lake Champlain, Missisquoi Bay and the Richelieu River, five major work components are planned:

  1. Networking with key agencies, review of the state of the basin, review of research and monitoring information, as well as domestic and binational management efforts
     
  2. Analysis of assembled materials
     
  3. Identification of approaches that address the reduction of nutrient loading and causes of HABs
     
  4. Consultation with agencies in the watershed and the public on approach options, and
     
  5. Development of recommendations to strengthen current efforts

Component 1: Networking with key agencies, review of the state of the basin, review of research and monitoring information, as well as domestic and binational management efforts

  • Networking with key agencies, institutions and organizations in the region: This should occur immediately to ensure that the IJC defines the scope of its activities, obtains input, collaborates and manages expectations with elected officials, senior departmental officials, stakeholders and the public.
     
  • Establish partnerships with LCBP in Vermont and New York and the OBVBM in Quebec, as it is anticipated that they will play a critical role assisting the IJC in the delivery of its work by collaborating with their existing advisory and technical committees and by communicating the purpose of the governments’ request with the public in a timely manner.
     
  • Through a literature review and discussions with experts familiar with the system, assemble information on: 1) scientific reports from federal, provincial, state and municipal agencies, academic institutions, and basin organizations (e.g., peer-reviewed articles, technical publications, local public health information, and data sets related to issues), 2) programs and policies, including those that relate to research, monitoring, mitigation measures, restoration initiatives and conservation practices, 3) assessment and reporting practices, and 4) activities that inform and educate the agricultural sector and municipalities about nutrient and waste management practices, regulations and incentives.
  1. Timeline: ~6 months
  2. Deliverable: Summary report

Component 2: Analysis of assembled materials

  • This task will consider content from the assembled materials relevant to the reduction of nutrient loading and the causes of HABs in Missisquoi Bay and the broader Lake Champlain-Richelieu River system. The natural and anthropogenic factors influencing the system will be analysed.
     
  • The analysis will also provide an assessment of alternative protection and restoration approaches and potential solutions (e.g., water treatment and technological options).
     
  • The effectiveness of existing domestic and binational efforts, and identification of opportunities for strengthening coordination and governance mechanisms will also be reviewed. A gap analysis of work completed to date and determination of “what worked / what didn’t work” will be carried out.
  1. Timeline: ~1 year
  2. Deliverable: Synthesis report

Component 3: Identification of approaches that address the reduction of nutrient loading and causes of HABs

  • One or more approaches will be developed that could strengthen current efforts and establish a long-term strategy for nutrient load reduction to address the causes of HABs. Considerations would include jurisdictional frameworks, programs and policies, and binational governance.
  1. Timeline: ~18 months
  2. Deliverable: Report itemizing approach or approaches

Component 4: Consultation with agencies in the watershed and the public on approach options

  • Targeted communication with elected officials, senior departmental officials, stakeholders and the public through existing river basin organizations will be provided.
     
  • In coordination with basin organizations, the IJC will hold public meetings in QC, VT and NY to solicit input on findings and on potential approaches for protecting and restoring water quality.
     
  • Key findings and initial recommendations that could be transmitted to governments will be identified.
  1. Timeline: ~18 months: following completion of supporting reports
  2. Deliverable: Summaries of public input

Component 5: Development of recommendations to strengthen current efforts

  • Finalize report and recommendations supporting a cohesive approach to a binational management plan for the reduction of nutrients and causes of HABs in the Missisquoi Bay, Lake Champlain and Richelieu River system. The IJC will finalize its key findings and recommendations that will be transferred to governments.
  1. Timeline: Transmission of final report with recommendations to the governments by October 2019

Timeline

October 2017 Receipt of governments’ request
February 2018 Completion of work plan
October 2018 Completion of progress report for governments
Summer 2019 Public meetings on findings, potential approaches and possible next steps
October 2019 Submission of final report with recommendations to governments