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Lake Champlain Receding From Record Mid-Summer Levels

Montpelier — Lake Champlain continued to recede Friday from near-flood levels never before seen in mid-summer that have left some areas along the shoreline under water and hazards like floating logs in the middle of the lake, officials said Friday.

But the higher water levels have also had some benefits because in some areas prone to boat groundings the deeper water is keeping those obstacles safely submerged, officials said.

At the Burlington ferry docks only one lane for boarding vehicles is completely free of water, but the water isn’t deep and crews are managing to load the ferries without any problems, said Margaret Campbell, the assistant operations manager for the Lake Champlain Transportation Company, which runs three ferry routes between Vermont and New York.

“You don’t typically have water like this in July,” Campbell said.

Flood stage for Lake Champlain is considered to be 100 feet above sea level. Earlier this week the lake reached a record July level of about 99.6 feet, a level usually seen at the height of the spring snow-melt in April or May. The high lake levels come after a rainy spring was followed by an unprecedented rainy stretch that caused a series of damaging flash floods across Vermont.

Even though the rain from many of those storms drained into Lake Champlain the rain ended in time and the lake is now dropping.

The breakwater that protects Burlington’s waterfront from the lake’s rough waters remains about a foot above the high water level, holding at bay one threat the near-flood level waters could pose.

The lake level “would have to rise another foot to submerge that,” said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordan Hess, of the Burlington station.

There are some fixed piers around the lake that are submerged and could be a hazard to boaters unfamiliar with the lake, but Hess said he hadn’t heard of any problems.

The high water has also continued to flush trees, logs and other large sticks into the lake, especially from the Winooski River, usually a spring problem that resurfaced after the heavy rains of recent weeks, Hess said.

Coast Guard crews and good Samaritans have been pulling those obstacles to shore.

“It helps in other areas. There are lots of positives,” Hess said. “Last year we had a very high number of vessel groundings.”

When the lake level was at 94 or 95 feet many vessels were hitting submerged rocks or other normally covered obstacles, Hess said.

“We’ve had a significant drop in vessel groundings,” he said.