Behind the Scenes of Studies on Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River

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Randi Morry
February 16, 2018
Infographic: Shared Solutions for Shared Waters

The International Joint Commission (IJC) is active in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River basin, carrying out studies to address two major issues: flooding and water quality. This is welcome news for residents who experienced the catastrophic effects of floods in 2011. News of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Lake Champlain, Missisquoi Bay and Lake Memphremagog also continue to command the attention of the public.­

Over the next five years, the International Lake Champlain-Richelieu River Study Board (ILCRRSB) will evaluate the causes and impacts of past floods in Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, and identify possible measures to mitigate and manage flooding. In a separate two-year project, the IJC will make recommendations to strengthen efforts to address concerns over high phosphorus levels and HABs in Missisquoi Bay, Lake Champlain, the Richelieu River and Lake Memphremagog. This review is in response to a request received in 2017 from the governments of Canada and the United States.

Studies to complement each other

Linkages exist between the flooding study for the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River system and the water quality review that concerns Missisquoi Bay, Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River portion of the reference. For example, hydrologic models (representations of the water cycle and the dynamics of movement) being developed under the flooding reference may enhance understanding of how nutrients are transferred from land to water and how water moves and carries nutrients from protected embayments of Lake Champlain, such as Missisquoi Bay, to the Richelieu River.

In addition, recommended flood mitigation and management measures, especially those involving floodplain and wetland restoration and improved agricultural practices, may have implications for loads of nutrients in tributaries and concentrations in the receiving waters.

In both cases, the IJC is committed to engaging the public, inviting feedback through open houses and online consultations on draft reports, and providing access to information on study activities and products online. In addition to working closely with various levels of government on both sides of the border, the IJC also will take into account work being done by key watershed organizations, including l’Organisme de bassin versant de la baie Missisquoi (OBVBM), the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP), Memphremagog Conservation Inc. and the Memphremagog Watersheds Association. Ongoing dialogue with indigenous communities in the region is occurring as part of the IJC’s engagement efforts. Now, let’s take a look at what we might expect to learn from these studies.

Flooding in Lake Champlain-Richelieu River

Along with recommending potential measures to mitigate flooding, the implementation of a binational mapping system to forecast flooding in real time will be one of the most significant outcomes of this study. This tool will assist decision makers in better understanding the impact that flood mitigation measures will have on the environment, humans, infrastructure and the local economy. The work also includes the social and political perspectives of affected communities to better understand the impacts that proposed mitigation measures might have on those communities.

The binational study board will deliver a final report to the IJC in 2021. Visit the ILCRRSB web page to sign up for updates on the work of this study.

A review of water quality in Lakes Champlain and Memphremagog

Though both Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog empty into the St. Lawrence River, the lakes are in separate watersheds. Because of this and other distinctions between the two systems, the IJC will break this project into two distinct projects:

  1. In Missisquoi Bay and the broader Lake Champlain and Richelieu River system, the IJC will gather and review information on existing monitoring programs and measures. The IJC will then make recommendations on how to better strengthen collective efforts and accelerate progress.
  2. In the Lake Memphremagog basin, the IJC will organize a binational science forum in 2019 to further identify the range of nutrient loading issues that are of concern before making recommendations on how current efforts can be strengthened, including consideration of management approaches.

Final reports on the water quality review will be provided to the governments of Canada and the US in 2019.

This infographic provides more information about the IJC’s involvement in the Lake Champlain-Richelieu River system.

Infographic: Shared Solutions for Shared Waters
Infographic: Shared Solutions for Shared Waters


Picture of Randi Morry
Randi Morry