Lake Champlain Community Scientist Volunteer Network Communicates Critical Cyanobacteria Information to Region-wide Stakeholders
Author: Matthew C.H. Vaughan, Mae Kate Campbell, Lori Fisher, Bridget O’Brien, Rebecca M. Gorney, Angela Shambaugh, Lauren S. Sopher, Oliver Pierson, and Eric A. Howe,Issue #174
Lake Champlain is a treasured resource for recreation, tourism, and drinking water situated in New York, Vermont (U.S.), and Québec (Canada). Because its shores span two states and two countries, management strategies for the lake require strong cross-boundary partnerships and cooperation. In recent decades, increased prevalence of harmful cyanobacteria blooms has impacted public health and recreation. A lake-wide cyanobacteria monitoring program was established in 2001 with an emphasis on water sample collection and analysis to inform management strategies. In 2012, this program transitioned from laboratory-based analyses at a limited number of locations to a visual assessment protocol validated by water samples. This transition opened the door to more effective and widespread monitoring, communication, and inclusion of a greater number of monitoring locations and stakeholders. Today, through a unique partnership of community scientist volunteers, public beach managers, nonprofit organizations, and state and federal agencies, a comprehensive network of trained cyanobacteria monitors generates timely data on water quality conditions to relay critical public health information. The majority of these reports are provided by trained community scientist volunteers, strengthening the geographic coverage of the program and the environmental literacy of lake users. This program now trains hundreds of community scientists, documents thousands of water quality condition reports annually, and communicates cyanobacteria conditions to the public via an online Cyanobacteria Tracker map. In this article, we describe the evolution of this successful program, discuss key findings from analysis of these volunteer-collected data, and suggest how similar programs could be effectively developed in other regions.