- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - A new study has put a price tag on poor water quality in Lake Champlain.

The University of Vermont report says Vermont lakeside communities would lose $16.8 million in economic activity and 200 full-time jobs in July and August for every 3-foot decrease in water clarity.

The study, released Thursday, considered the lake’s impact on home values, tourism and regional economic activity. The report was conducted for the Lake Champlain Basin Program, a congressionally designated initiative to restore and protect the lake.

“These findings show that water quality in Lake Champlain and its surrounding basin is more than just an environmental concern,” said Brian Voigt, a researcher at UVM’s Gund Institute and Rubenstein School. “It’s a major economic issue that affects homeowners, businesses and employees.”

In recent years, blue-green algae blooms and elevated levels of E. coli bacteria have prompted the temporary closing of some beaches. Phosphorus runoff from farms, roads, parking lots and wastewater treatment plants contribute to the lake’s degradation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month released the final phosphorus reduction goals for Vermont to help clean up the lake. The mandates call for a 33.7 percent reduction in the lake and 64.3 percent in Missisquoi Bay.

Alyssa Schuren, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said Friday the research findings are concerning but not surprising.

“From our perspective, it took a generation for the water quality in the lake to become so poor and we won’t see results from the work that we’re doing overnight,” Schuren said.

She said aggressive action has already begun to restore the lake’s water quality.

The university researchers reviewed five years of tax data and found that lake-related tourism, including restaurant, hotel and recreational activity, faces a $12.6 million decline in summer spending for every 3 feet of decreased water clarity.

For home values, a 3-foot loss in water clarity resulted in a 37 percent decline for seasonal homes and a 3 percent reduction among other homes.

Eric Howe, director of the Lake Champlain Basin Program, said meeting the EPA’s phosphorus reduction goals could help prevent these economic losses.

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