Living Economically: Clean water: what can I do?

Wake Robin resident and volunteer Lucy Blanton and ecologist Susan Moegenburg collect water samples.

Wake Robin resident and volunteer Lucy Blanton and ecologist Susan Moegenburg collect water samples.

By Laurie Caswell Burke

Do you know what your neighbors are doing taking water from streams early in the morning? If you take a closer look, you might be surprised to find out why they are reaching into stream beds as the sun rises and wildlife roams our local habitats.

Most of us are familiar with The LaPlatte River and its tributary McCabes’s Brook that flow through our town and discharge into Shelburne Bay. Together they drain a 53-square-mile area that includes portions of the surrounding towns of Hinesburg and Charlotte. Clean water in the River and Bay is key to sustaining aquatic life and our own uses for water, including drinking, swimming, boating, and fishing.

Since 2004, volunteers with the LaPlatte Watershed Partnership in Shelburne, Charlotte, and Hinesburg have been taking samples from McCabe’s Brook and other LaPlatte River tributaries to test the levels of pollutants in the water. The water samples are analyzed at the LaRosa State Laboratory, and funding is provided by the LaRosa Volunteer Monitoring Analytical Partnerships Program. For the first several years, this group of around 20 volunteers took samples on a designated day of every spring and summer month. For the past few years, however, sampling is done after major rain events. Because the volunteers also measure the volume of water flowing in the streams, the amount of pollutants flowing through our streams and entering Lake Champlain can be calculated.
As Shelburne volunteer Bill Hoadley, a leader of the project, puts it: “These data have contributed to the identification of hot spots and an understanding of how Shelburne, Charlotte, and Hinesburg and we as property owners can help protect and improve the quality of our surface waters and their value as a recreational and esthetic resource, as well as the source of our drinking water.”

Citizens and town officials alike have important roles to play in reducing the amounts of nutrients and sediment that enter our streams and flow to Shelburne Bay and Lake Champlain.  Reducing the amount of fertilizer applied to lawns, constructing rain gardens, using rain barrels, and minimizing erosion are all easy actions that people can take that can add up to a big improvement in water quality. You can also volunteer to be part of the group of samplers.

Here is a summary of the major findings:


  • Suspended Sediment: the brown stuff we see in rivers and the Bay after heavy rains.
  • Limits photosynthesis, damages habitat for aquatic animals, harms breeding areas for fish, and transports phosphorus to Lake Champlain.
  • Levels exceed recommended amounts after heavy rains.
  • Phosphorus: enters streams where banks erode, from urban drainage, lawns, and downstream from corn fields and cultivated land.
  • Phosphorus concentrations in Shelburne Bay often exceed the Vermont water quality standard. This results in increased growth of nuisance aquatic plants and algae and worsening water quality in Lake Champlain and Shelburne Bay.


  • Divert drainage from driveways to permeable surfaces like lawns.
  • Create buffers between lawns & fields and streams.
  • Move drainage pipes away from streams and roadside ditches.
  • Use less fertilizer and pest control chemicals on private and town land.
  • Cut lawns three inches high to minimize runoff.
  • Plant trees and shrubs to stabilize stream banks and floodplains.

A brochure produced by the LaPlatte Watershed Partnership that gives additional information about the status of the LaPlatte River and what we can all do to help is available at the Shelburne Town Offices. Very few of us would want to see our water quality diminished and starting with an understanding of some of the concerns can spur us into action. I know I am ready to volunteer!

For more information contact Susan Moegenburg at 985-2017, Bill Hoadley at 985-5736, or Marty Illick at 435-2002.

Written with help from Ecologist Susan Moegenburg.

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