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Markowitz: A View From Above

A plume of sediment flowing into the lake from the Lamoille River is seen from the air in 2013.

When I fly into Vermont I enjoy having a birds-eye view of the landscape. We can learn a lot about the health of the environment from that height. But, this May when I looked out the window, I was alarmed. From thousands of feet up, it was easy to see that we’ve a massive amount of work ahead of us if we're serious about cleaning up Lake Champlain.Giant plumes of brown water flowed from streams, swollen from spring rain and snowmelt into Lake Champlain, and covered large expanses of shoreline. This water was filled with phosphorus, sediment and other pollution.

When I served as Secretary of Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources I learned that stopping water pollution is a complex challenge. But while there's no single solution, some basic nature-based approaches, such as wetland and floodplain restoration, can make a meaningful difference. New research from the Gund Institute of Environment at UVM, working with the Nature Conservancy, suggests that we could achieve as much as 15% of our pollution reduction goals for Lake Champlain simply by restoring wetlands that've been lost to farming or development.

Because wetlands naturally filter out nutrients like phosphorus, they help reduce the impact of stormwater runoff from farms and development. They also act as sponges, capturing water that might otherwise cause floods and erosion that pollute our waterways.

In the past, we've relied on engineered solutions to solve our pollution problems, and while stormwater management systems and treatment facilities are also essential components of a comprehensive clean-up plan, we now know that natural solutions like wetland restoration can provide a cost-effective tool to help us meet our clean water goals.

From the air, it’s easy to see how everything on the landscape is connected. It’s a good reminder that, as our environmental problems are becoming more urgent and more complex, protecting and restoring wetlands are an essential part of the solution.

And even our smallest landowners can help. According to the new research, the size of the wetland is not always as important as its location, and even restoring small wetlands can contribute to lake clean up.