What’s Happening With Lake Champlain?

June 3, 2015

Before joining the union as the 14th state in 1791, Vermont spent 14 years as an independent country. It’s true! We had our own currency and postal service, and we spoke the ancient language of Vermontese, which many people today recognize as English.

There were no Scoop Shops, no live music at Nectar’s and the Green Mountains were free of chair lifts. It was a different place, that’s for sure. However there was one thing Vermont had back then that still shines as one of our biggest treasures today. It’s Lake Champlain, and it needs our help.

Meet the Lake

Lake Champlain is the sixth largest body of fresh water in the US. It’s a great place for boating, fishing and swimming, and provides drinking water for nearly 200,000 people in Vermont, New York and Canada. It’s also the perfect place to catch an incredible sunset.

Lake Champlain - Vermont - Ben & Jerry's

Photo credit: Tony Fishcher

While the water may appear healthy to the casual visitor, we’re sad to say a pollution crisis is threatening our beautiful lake. Christopher Kilian, Vice President and Director at the Conservation Law Foundation of Vermont, explains:

We have phosphorous runoff from farms, overdevelopment, and wastewater treatment plants. That phosphorous fuels plant and algae growth that can create noxious conditions that cause fish kills, and pose a danger to people, pets and other animals.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, these noxious conditions are caused when blue-green algae dies and breaks down, releasing toxins into the water that can:

  • Cause sore throats and runny noses
  • Cause severe stomach problems or liver damage if swallowed
  • Paralyze and kill animals

The good news in all of this is that the problem isn’t being ignored. Awareness is spreading, and more people are getting involved to help make a difference.

What the Government is Doing to Help

Here’s a quick rundown of what has happened in Washington and our State House:

  • 1948: The government passes the Federal Water Pollution Control Act as a way to address water pollution
  • 1972: The law is amended to strengthen the protection of our country’s waters, with the new bill being called the Clean Water Act
  • 1990: The wheels are set in motion to develop a plan that addresses pollution prevention, control, and restoration of Lake Champlain
  • 2002: The Lake Champlain Basin Program is established to restore and protect Lake Champlain
  • 2015: Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announces $16 million in federal funds were secured to help improve Lake Champlain’s water quality

There you have it: 67 years of history in only five bullet points. A lot has happened in the past, and a lot more has to happen in the future to get Lake Champlain back to the pristine condition it once was in. We’ve got high hopes, though. That’s why we’re doing all we can to help.

What Ben & Jerry’s Does to Help

Ben & Jerry's Phish Food Ice Cream

We said it before, and we’ll say it again – we love Lake Champlain. So when we teamed up with Phish — a group of Vermont locals, like us — to release Phish Food on March 18, 1997, we couldn’t contain our excitement when they decided to funnel their royalties towards cleaning up Lake Champlain. They founded WaterWheel, a foundation to make sure the money is spent effectively, and we are very proud to offer our support.

A portion from every sale of Phish Food goes to WaterWheel, but that’s not all we do. Whether it’s co-hosting the world’s largest cowbell ensemble or selling limited edition t-shirts, we’re always finding ways to help the foundation that helps Lake Champlain.

According to Kilian, all of our work with Phish and WaterWheel is paying off:

We’re at the most positive moment I’ve seen in 25 years working on Lake Champlain… None of it, none of the positive change, would have been possible without WaterWheel’s investment.

How You Can Get Involved

Helping protect Lake Champlain is simple. All you have to do is get up, come to Vermont, and start skimming the lake to rid it of blue-green algae. See you soon!

No, no, we kid. That’s a noble act and we’d applaud your efforts, but we don’t think that lake skimming would solve the problem. Instead, we suggest you take action by trying one of the following: