RYEGATE — Cows once dotted the pastoral slopes leading down to Ticklenaked Pond in this Caledonia County town, where Sally Wilson moved 13 years ago.
“Which was part of the draw,” said Wilson, treasurer of the pond’s association, standing by the shore Wednesday. “But also part of the phosphorus in the lake.”
For years, Ticklenaked Pond — more a small lake than a pond — registered phosphorus levels above state regulations. The excess nutrient accumulated over decades from farm, road and driveway runoff, turning the water a murky brown and feeding invasive species and algae growth.
But after about 15 years of collaboration between environmental workers and community volunteers, Vermont is removing Ticklenaked Pond from its impaired waters list.
It’s the first body of water on the list to be restored.
“This is still a stressed lake,” said Oliver Pierson, lakes and ponds program manager for the Department of Environmental Conservation. “But I think what we can show here is, we identified a problem, (worked on a solution with the community) and it paid off.”
Officials were able to delist Ticklenaked after five straight years of water quality improvements.
In the early and mid-2000s, the Ryegate pond consistently registered phosphorus levels between 30 and 120 micrograms per liter in the spring and between 20 and 40 micrograms per liter in the summer, state data shows.
Lakes and other reservoirs are only allowed to have concentrations between 12 and 18 micrograms per liter, according to state standards.
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People could only see a few feet into the 55-acre pond, which is 15 ½ meters at its deepest point. The phosphorus spurred algae blooms, too, and locals avoided swimming — though the pollution posed no human health hazards, said Pierson.
In 2005, the state environmental department began a water quality analysis to figure out where the excess phosphorus was coming from, set a target level of 24 micrograms per liter and charted out a plan to restore the pond.
Officials enlisted volunteers from the pond association to help, including Wilson, who lives along the water.
She said state officials and locals began working to reduce runoff: convincing farmers to relocate cattle; installing culverts and driveway water bars and rain barrels; planting foliage along the lake.
The efforts continued for about 10 years, she said, before monitoring showed no more phosphorus coming into Ticklenaked.
Then, in 2014, the Department of Environmental Conservation awarded the Town of Ryegate and the pond association a $95,990 grant to roll out an alum treatment — spraying the water with an aluminum-based compound that binds with phosphorus.
When the alum binds with phosphorus, it renders the…