Lake Champlain Science Group To Get Study Money
10/07/11 5:50PM By Ross Sneyd  Download MP3
(Host) A consortium of Vermont colleges headed by the University of Vermont has won a $20 million federal grant to study the Lake Champlain basin.
Researchers say one of the goals of the work is to help officials understand the implications of climate change - and to plan for it.
VPR's Ross Sneyd has more.
(Sneyd) UVM officials say they've never before been awarded so much money in a single grant like this. Interim President John Bramley announced the award from the National Science Foundation.
(Bramley) "This generous grant will allow the University of Vermont and its EPSCoR partners to use cutting edge science to ensure the future health of the Lake Champlain Basin."
(Sneyd) The money goes to EPSCoR - which is a research organization based at UVM and also includes Johnson State, Middlebury, St. Michael's and the Community College of Vermont.
EPSCoR has won previous grants that pulled together the reams of studies that have been done on Lake Champlain and its tributaries over the years.
UVM biology professor Judith Van Houten directs the research collaboration.
(VanHouten) "In the past what we did was to use the existing data sets ... to try to gather data on the watershed and the lake to understand its source of pollution and its problems."
(Sneyd) Van Houten says researchers will use the information they've compiled in the past and analyze it in ways that can help officials set policies that help to protect the lake.
For example, the state might alter some of its land-use regulations. Or a town official might ask the researchers to draw up a model to help them understand how a development might affect a stream that feeds the lake.
Van Houten says this kind of work isn't being done anywhere else in the country.
(VanHouten) "So what we're going to be is actually a little incubator, a little model system for what can be exported to the rest of the country and beyond."
(Sneyd) Scientists will test their theories against the real world by, among other things, placing sensors in streams and the lake to measure for chemicals, oxygen levels and other factors that determine the health of the entire basin.
Senator Patrick Leahy, who helped get the money for the project, says he was persuaded by the need because the climate is changing so swiftly. And he says the spring and fall floods that we've seen throughout the region prove the need.
(Leahy) "We've been humbled to learn that climate can and will have a dramatic effect on every aspect of our life in Vermont. Now we can do everything possible to reduce carbon emission. But we have to realize that climate change is upon us and unfortunately it's the sort that can accelerate."
(Sneyd) Leahy and the scientists say the new research can help Vermont better understand the effects of climate change - and adapt to those changes.
For VPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd