The First Retreat: Tackling Lake Champlain Pollution

I am so happy with the outcome of our first “What’s the Story?” overnight retreat. I went into this meeting fearing that my topic wouldn’t appeal to others, I was afraid that it wouldn’t be as dramatic as the others or peak the interests of my peers,  just from reading the other blog posts over the last two months. I assumed that the cohort would have more interest in something that directly affected people more than invasive plants would, but I was very surprised. There are two other students who are interested in preserving Vermont’s ecosystems, specifically aquatic ecosystems, and when looking into which ecosystems needed the most attention we decided that Lake Champlain, being the biggest lake in our immediate area, was the one that we needed to focus our attention to the most.

We are dealing with the pollution of Lake Champlain. Pollution that is brought on by the phosphorus run offs that are created from the abundance of manure created by local dairy farms. Phosphorus promotes the growth of blue-green algae, which in large amounts is awful for a body of water. Phosphorus as promotes the growth of the Eurasian Watermilfoil, which is one of the invasive plants that I’d often mentioned in my previous blog posts. When both of these plants grow rapidly within an aquatic ecosystem they push out native plants by cutting them off from the nutrients that they need in order to thrive and continue living in their natural environment. I said this in my last blog post that focused specifically on invasive plants, and I want to reiterate what I had said because I think it applies well here; We are not in any position to stop nature from taking its course, algae will grow and plants will spread on their own time. However, when humans are thrown into the equation it creates an imbalance in the process. We give the invasive plants, and the algae, and the phosphorus an unfair advantage against Lake Champlain and other bodies of water. When manure run offs are created due to a dairy farms lack of efficient and clean manure disposal and reuse, we are polluting the Lake exponentially faster than it would pollute itself naturally. It’s the same situation with invasive plants. They have their own ways of relocating over time, but when we don’t take the time to clean off our boats or construction equipment we’re basically doing the hard part for them and allowing them to take over our ecosystems. There are a lot of parallels between this issue here and the issue I was tackling in my blog post before coming here, which is why I am so eager to approach it.

My group and I are just getting the ball rolling here. We have different ideas and different ways that we want to reach our audience, and at the moment everything that we’ve talked about and all the plans we’ve created are still up in the air as possibilities. I wish we could have more time today to talk about our plans. We’re still working out a schedule of times that we can communicate, and we’re still trying to get ourselves organized. The organization thing is a big deal for me. I’m looking for detail and strong explanation, so I need to have things laid out in an orderly, clear fashion on a document in a specific folder so that it’ll all makes sense and can be accessed easily, because you have no idea how many time I’ve jotted something down on a google doc quickly, titled it something strange, and forgotten it, lost it, or didn’t understand it at all. It works better for me, personally. I would like to do lots and lots of research on phosphorus and nitrogen and plant growth and algae growth and record everything that I learn in a simple and formal way, so that not only I and my team can understand it easily, but we can also present it to our target audience in a way that translates well, isn’t too complex, and most of all makes sense.  Because all though I’m pretty well versed in the whole “invasive plants” topic, I need to do a bit more brushing up on the basic biology of these issues before I can tackle these bigger things and start looking for solutions. This is something I plan on doing soon, so that hopefully within this week we can start answering the bigger questions on our action plan as soon as possible, and making big progress on our project.

So what is the story here. That’s kind of important. It’s the whole idea of the course, find a story for your issue. We’re still working on that part. We have the “what” (there’s pollution in Lake Champlain cause by manure and phosphorus runoffs, so what can we do to fix it). We have the “how” (we need to eliminate the human factor contributing to this issue in a gigantic way), and we have our “why” (if we don’t eliminate the human factor contributing to the pollution of Lake Champlain, not only will the source of water for thousands of people be majorly polluted, but we will be disrupting the ecosystem that serves as a home for hundreds of aquatic plants and animals, just trying to thrive in their environments. That’s the other thing that bothers me. These creatures living in Lake Champlain don’t have any say in what happens to their own home. That’s not fair. They shouldn’t be dealing with the fallout of our own carelessness. After all, even if there are people who don’t necessarily care about the things that live in Lake Champlain, the plants and fish and so on, we should care about how the affects will impacts the local people. Algae makes the lake look gross, and with all of the water pollution, property values of people living around the Lake will plummet, people will definitely care about that.

I am so ready to tackle this topic.

Brynna Kearns

One Response to “The First Retreat: Tackling Lake Champlain Pollution

  • Ceci Lewis
    4 years ago

    Brynna,
    I am so happy to read that you found others in WTS to work with you on this topic that you have become so increasingly passionate about. Yes!!! This is exactly what forming a community of writers and like-minded thinkers looks like. I consider myself fortunate to see how your mind has worked as you have shared your journey through finding a topic, changing that topic, looking for something that you could “sink your intellectual teeth into,” and then working to not only understand the problem, but also consider solutions to the issue that you are becoming increasingly invested in. Wow!
    Since you have identified at least one major issue that contributes to the pollution problem, run-off of phosphates into Lake Champlain, and you know where and how these phosphates are entering into the lake, it will be interesting to see how you and your group will look for innovative ways in which to prevent or lessen the run-off. Is there any way that this run-off could be captured and repurposed? Additionally, how might you encourage the dairy farmers to become part of the solution?
    The retreat sounds like it was just the connection you needed to move into the next phase of your research – finding solutions! YES!!!
    I eagerly look forward to reading more about your discoveries.
    Ceci

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