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.
What do you do when it’s 70°F and sunny in Burlington, VT? Hollow out some pumpkins and paddle them in the lake, of course! This weekend was Burlington’s 4th annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta and Festival. In addition to the paddled pumpkins, pictured below, there were food vendors, music, dance performances, and even a dog costume contest.
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.
I was in Washington D.C. early this week and was supposed to travel home to Vermont during the thunderstorms Tuesday evening. The flight was delayed and eventually cancelled which meant I flew up over Lake Champlain at around noon on Wednesday. I was greeted with sights that I’ve only seen in photos from other flooded areas. Silt and debris flowed out of every river and stream into Lake Champlain creating plumes of muddy water. The photo below is of the mouth of the Winooski river with the silt streaming north past Colchester point and towards the mouth of Malletts Bay. Usually I travel with a decent camera, but this was a quick trip and all I had on me was my iPhone.
After dinner, Tawny and I decided to walk over to the farmer’s field near our house to see what the flooding had done. Earlier in the day Route 128 was closed right here, but the waters had receded enough to re-open by early evening. The flood waters had eroded large parts of the shoulder but the traveled lanes still looked structurally sound.
I can’t imagine this truck is going to move for a few days. Earlier this morning, Tawny informed me, there was a tractor in the middle of the field across the road. The tractor made its way out, but there were some serious ruts that indicated where it had been.
We walked around for a few more minutes as the sun set, enjoying the near 80 degree weather. It’s hard to believe that this is a farmer’s field. Usually photos like this are down at the lake shore looking over at the Adirondack mountains.
It’s been an exciting year for weather in Burlington. What’s mother nature got in store for us next?