Citizens' group keeps an eye on Lake's health

SHELBURNE Buzz Hoerrs interest in lakes, rivers and water resources, and his commitment to protecting them, has been so long-standing it could almost be considered genetic. He grew up in Missouri, where his grandfather was an industrialist and enthusiastic hunter/fisherman who recognized the danger of depleting natural resources and helped to organize the first conservation organization in St. Louis. From him Buzz learned a lesson: use it but give back. While he was a student at St. Michaels College he worked in the summer on the Lake Champlain Ferries where he heard the stories of Lake Champlain, its history, its role as a highway for exploration and building the economy from the captain and the chief engineer. As a resident of Vermont with a home on the lake in Colchester, he had a front row seat for observing the lake and he became an outspoken advocate for its protection and stewardship. Ex-Gov. Howard Dean appointed him to the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Lake Champlain Basin Program, where he is an active member. In early April Hoerr gave the second in a four-part series of lectures called Voices for the Environment sponsored by All Souls Interfaith Gathering, discussing the historical relationship between people and the lake through thousands of years, and the importance of public participation in caring for such an important resource. He said that because North America has a tradition of water being owned by everyone, citizens can affect decisions related to the water. When the blue-green algae crisis developed five years ago, with access to the lake as a source of drinking water as well as recreation stopped by the dangerous algae blooms that developed, fed by phosphorus runoff, people began to pay attention, coming to meetings to discuss a solution. What had been a nuisance became a health problem, and people learned what you see in the lake is the result of what we do on the land. Lake Champlain is especially vulnerable because it has such an enormous drain basin (much larger than the drainage basins of the Great Lakes) and the lake is relatively shallow in its northern and southern reaches. Hoerr commented that action to correct the problems of the lake might have happened more quickly if the algae problem had been on the broad lake right in front of Burlington with lots of voters and a concentration of people, swimmers and boaters. However he said there have been significant successes in the last four years, largely the result of the Farmers Watershed Alliance. The farmers, and the young farmers, sons and daughters who run the farms, are seeing manure management as beneficial, a resource instead of a problem, he said. Better education is raising awareness of why to change and how to change. Farmers are signing up for comprehensive nutrient management programs with analysis of their livestock feeding programs and implementing manure management to prevent loss of nutrients and the resulting pollution of streams and the lake. Hoerr said the state is funding more staffing to speed up the processing of requests for nutrient management analysis. He also commented that Vermont is fortunate to have a senator who is a friend of the lake and a governor who is creating action programs. He said that we need also to be aware of the history of the lake and the context that creates for our stewardship today. Humans have been living on and around the lake for at least 11,000 years, he said. Archeologists have proved that native peoples were living here, fishing in the lake when the lake was salt and much bigger than it is today. Carbon dating has proved it. They have also proved that the native peoples were trading as far away as northern Labrador and Northern Russia. The lake has always been a place of commerce and conflict. The lake has also always had a spiritual aspect, Hoerr said. For the Abenakis, the lake was their church. In their tradition Odzihozo created the lake and the mountains that surrounded it and they saw the lake as an integral part of their spirituality. The third in the Voices for the Environment series will be held in the Sanctuary of All Souls Interfaith Gathering on Tom Berry, Lake Champlain Program Director, Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, will speak on Life and the Lake on Tuesday, May 13 at 7 p.m. and on June 5 Wes Sanders of Vermont Interfaith Power and Light will speak on the Low Carbon Diet: What Every Household Can Do To Combat Climate Change. The lecture series is free. For information call All Souls Interfaith Gathering at 985-3819.

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