Last year, Lake Champlain was dealing with historic flooding. This year, I’ve started to hear references to record low lake levels. Since I now commute along the waterfront, I’ve been witness to the lack of water. Take the photograph below. It was taken yesterday, April 25th, 2012.
One year ago, the same lighthouse looked like this.
When I compare the two images, I think the lighthouse was actually damaged enough that they had to remove some of the lower boards.
According to this chart, the lake level should be around 99′ at this time of year. Instead, we’re at about 96.5′ — more like what I would expect in June. And that’s after a pretty rainy couple of days. We were at 96.0′ on April 21st. According to the USGS, the lake level changes by about 5′ annually. If we’re at the annual high point now, what does that mean for the rest of the summer? Will September or October 2012 bring us new record lows, only 18 months after record highs?
On a somewhat related note, there’s still a lot of effort going in to repairing our broken state after last year’s flooding. There are lots of people in VT that still need homes rebuilt and businesses that are still recovering. One of the things that’s near and dear to my heart is the Burlington Bike Path. OK, it’s somewhat selfish, it’s part of my daily commute — but it’s also a big draw for tourism. Many events like those put on by Run Vermont and Race Vermont rely on the Bike Path for their routes. It’s in rough shape right now as a result of all the flooding last year. Parts have been patched, and repairs on other sections have begun, but there’s a long way to go. Local Motion has put together a fund to help repair the Island Line Trail. If you use this path and have a few dollars to spare, I’m sure they would appreciate any contribution.
If the Bike Path isn’t your thing, maybe consider the VT Irene Flood Relief Fund or VT Farm Disaster Relief Fund.
Burlington was very lucky with tropical storm Irene. When she was a hurricane and the path was uncertain, we didn’t know if it was going to come up Lake Champlain and destroy cities along both sides of the water or if it was going to veer out to sea. Ultimately, Burlington received heavy rain for about 24 hours combined with some sustained winds.
The rest of Vermont has devastating flooding. There are covered bridges that have washed away; towns that are under water; roads that no longer exist; and significant damage to farmlands. We expect the rivers to swell over the next day or two, so I suspect the real extent of the damage is unknown at this point. Suffice to say, there will be a lot of people who need a lot of help over the coming days, weeks, and months.
Church St. in Burlington, VT during tropical storm Irene.
The extent of the damage I’ve seen in Burlington has been limited to a few small & medium sized branches, leaves covering many sidewalks, and a potted plant that fell from a second story porch.
The Burlington Department of Parks and Recreation organized a cleanup day to help waterfront park and the bike path sections from Perkin’s Pier to the dog park recover from the flooding in time for the Vermont City Marathon. Over the past few weeks, I’ve walked around the waterfront numerous times photographing the damage and debris. A couple of weeks ago, I saw this driftwood piled up on the Coast Guard boat launch.
As I passed by, I casually wondered what would happen to it and where it would end up. Little did I know that I would be part of that process. Parks and Rec. put out the call for volunteers and I heard about it through Run Vermont and the #BTV Twitter hash tag. I regularly benefit from the bike path personally and professionally so I decided to head down to help clean up.
Burlington has a lot of pride in the lake, the waterfront, and our popular bike path and a number of people showed up to help clean it up.
After a quick sign in and some free coffee, we split up into three groups to focus on Perkin’s Pier, around the Echo center and the Burlington Boathouse, and the U.S. Coast Guard boat launch and points north.
While some folks went out to start collecting & sorting debris for transportation back to the dumpster, a bunch of us stayed behind to pick through the current big pile. The goal was to provide the McNeil generating station with a dumpster of clean driftwood ready for burning. To that end, we had to hand-pick through everything to remove any metal, plastic, glass, paint, or pressure-treated wood.
While we were working on the big pile, trucks came in with the driftwood that others had collected from along the rest of the bike path.
Given the size of the pile, I thought it would take the better part of the morning but after an hour or so we were down to little bits which would have to wait for the bucket loader. After some wandering around, looking for the best next project to dive into, a small team of us ended up near the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center and the fishing pier loading driftwood into a trailer for transportation back to the dumpster. We made about three runs, filling (and sometimes overfilling!) the trailer with water-logged wood. Adam would then drive the long way around because it was the only semi-dry path that the cart & trailer could make it through.
After a few hours of work, our dumpster was full and people were reporting that Perkin’s Pier was equally filled so our work was done for the day. There’s still a lot of cleanup to do, though, and a fair bit of standing water. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and some of the water will drain on its own before the marathon!
Lake Champlain has crested 103′ for the first time. We’re more than 3 feet above flood stage and about one foot over the previously highest recorded lake levels. And lake levels are expected to continue rising over the next day or so.
So, to continue with my flood-related photo activities, I went for a walk along the Burlington waterfront to see the sights. I saw a lot of people doing the same thing, nearly everyone with a camera in hand. The first thing I noticed was our buddy Champ. A few weeks ago, the water was high but I could walk next to him. Now, it looks like he’s been shifted by water that’s a foot or two higher. He’s now looking the other direction almost as if he can’t believe how high the water is either.
Continuing down the waterfront there are some signs that spring is making an appearance, but mostly there’s just a lot of water. Even in places where the lake hasn’t swallowed up the land, there are standing puddles of water. The breakwater is nowhere to be seen; the coast guard launch is non-existant; the pier just north of the waterfront is at lake level, if not a bit submerged.
If you haven’t been down to the lake to see it first-hand, you owe it to yourself to make it to the waterfront. The photographs in the Burlington Free Press are impressive and the aerial photos that Governor Shumiln posted to his blog are great, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person.
The rain keeps coming, the rivers are raging, and the lake is rising. I’ve taken to going on a quick walk at lunch time or at least making a brief stop on the way home to check out some of the flooding in the area. Today, I stopped at the IBM dam on the Winooski River. Last October I had stopped here to snap some photos of the flooding we were experiencing then. Conveniently, I had taken some photographs a few weeks before so I had some nice before and after shots of the river. I decided to stop at the same location today to see how it compared. I think, actually, that the river was probably flowing faster in October.
I think this next photo gives the best comparison to what things looked like last September and October in the same place.
I was intrigued, today, with the way the bubbles danced as the water cascaded over the falls.
The flooding in the Champlain Valley and on Lake Champlain is definitely worse right now. You only have to see these aerial photos to understand that. I think, though, there was more water coming down the Winooski last October. What do you think? Drop me a comment below and let me know.