How Vermont Tackled Farm Pollution and Cleaned Up Its Waters

If you were to go looking for a magnificent American body of water worthy of an epic end-to-end swim, Lake Champlain might be it. Carved out of high country by glaciers, fed by Green Mountain brooks and icy Adirondack springs, it stretches 120 miles, forming much of the border between New York and Vermont. It provides drinking water for 145,000 people. But in 2004, when clean-water activist Christopher Swain swam the full length, he was immediately confronted by the truth: Lake Champlain was anything but pristine. “I swam through clouds of manure runoff that were kind of slippery and sticky at the same time,” Swain recalls. “I could smell the fertilizer, when it was pouring down rain. There was this lawn-and-garden chemically smell.” In the northern reaches of the lake, he swam through blue-green algae. In the south, he encountered invasive aquatic weeds that entangled him. At another point, he felt a tingling on his leg, “like a cellphone buzzing in my pocket.” It turned out to be a sea lamprey, an eel-like, parasitic fish, trying to suck his blood…

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