Our Lakes

Here’s a comparison of the two lakes we’re focusing on for our 3D lake visualizations.

Lake Champlain Lake Tahoe
The Lake Champlain basin extends from the peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in New York west towards the Green Mountains in Vermont and north into Quebec, Canada. From north to south, the lake spans 193 km, yet it is surprisingly narrow–only 19 km at its widest point. Its long length and narrow width in addition to many bays and over 70 islands contributes to the lake being divided into 13 hydrologically distinct segments.
More than 600,000 people live in the Lake Champlain basin and millions visit each year to enjoy its waters and other natural and historic features. Not only recognized as the sixth largest freshwater lake in the United States, Lake Champlain’s watershed has been designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve. Source: Stickney et al. (2001)
Tahoe is one of only seventeen ancient lakes on earth and is one of the deepest lakes on earth. Lake Tahoe is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains that straddle the state line between California and Nevada, and is a clear, deep alpine lake. The lake is almost 1,900 meters above sea level.
Country: Canada/United States of America
Latitude: 44° 30′ 0″ (44.5000)
Longitude: -73° 15′ 0″ (-73.2500)
State: New York/Vermont
River Basin: Saint Lawrence
Country: United States of America
Latitude 39° 0′ 0″ (39.0000)
Longitude -120° 0′ 0″ (-120.0000)
State: California/Nevada
Physical Characteristics Overview
The lake drains a watershed encompassing 21 326 km2, 56% of which is in Vermont, 37% in New York, and 7% in Quebec. Nearly half of the state of Vermont lies within the basin compared to less than 10% of either New York or Quebec (Lake Champlain Basin Program 1996). The lake’s drainage area to surface area ratio is remarkably high, 19:1. Land cover in the watershed is generally dominated by forested land (62%), agricultural land (28%), urban land (3%), and water (7%) (Budd and Meals 1994), although recent data shows that urban land has expanded to 5% (Hegman et al. 1999). Lake Tahoe’s clarity is partly due to the fact that the lake takes up most of its watershed (the ratio of basin to surface area is only 1.6). Most of the basin’s rain and snow fall directly into the lake. In addition, the granitic and volcanic soils of the area are low in nutrients and erode slowly. As a result of all these factors, nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that usually support algae growth in lakes are scarce.
25.80 km3 156.00 km3
Surface Area
1,127.00 km2 495.00 km2
Depth Mean depth
19.5 m 305.0 m
Maximum depth
122.0 m 501.0 m
Residence Time
3.3 years 700.0 years
10,000 years before present 1 million – 2 million years before present
Glacial Tectonic
Fresh, Permanent, Natural Fresh, Permanent, Natural
Catchment Size
21,326.00 km2 841.00 km2
Catchment/surface area ratio
19:1 2:1
Economic Value
The lake’s healthy natural resources sustain a thriving economy. Agricultural goods produced in the basin generate roughly $415 million each year. People fishing in Lake Champlain spend about $32 million in the basin per year. Bird and other wildlife viewing contribute $50 million per year. Tourism overall brings in more than $2.2 billion annually (Lake Champlain Management Conference 1996). Cultural heritage resources also factor heavily in the strong economy. Heritage tourism, which joins natural and cultural resources through bicycle loops or kayak paddling trails, has made the basin a world-class bicycle and kayak touring destination (LCBP 1999). The quality of the Lake Tahoe environment and the viability of a sustainable recreation economy in the Basin are interrelated. The center of the Lake Tahoe economy is tourism. Tourists are attracted to Lake Tahoe because of its environmental beauty as well as the recreation offered by the environment. Because of the inter-relationship between the environment and the economy, it is important to track population trends, visitor movement, and other demographic and economic information to ensure the presence and transportation of people will not adversely affect Lake Tahoe Basin environmental quality. Likewise, it is also important to ensure the means for protecting environmental quality do not place an undue burden on people living and working in the Basin.
Watershed Management
Opportunities for Action, a comprehensive plan for the watershed, was renewed in 2003, after its first adoption in 1996. The comprehensive watershed plan deals with water quality, fish and wildlife resources, recreation management and cultural heritage protection. According to Dr. Charles Goldman, who has conducted a 43 year study of Tahoe water clarity, a February 2003 report shows a marked improvement that Goldman hopes is evidence of the lake’s capacity to recover. He said it is unknown whether several years of drought or the extensive restoration efforts underway in the basin in recent years are more responsible for the improvement.
A three year moratorium on development of shoreline property at Lake Tahoe to reduce runoff has created substantial controversy.
Although Lake Champlain remains a vital and attractive lake with many assets, there are several serious environmental problems that demand action. These include: high phosphorus concentrations, toxic substances, invasive species, water quality degradation, and habitat degradation. Erosion and runoff into the lake has reduced Lake Tahoe’s famous clarity. Since 1968 Tahoe’s waters have lost more than 12 meters of transparency. The algae growth rate has doubled. Increases in human population and urbanization have put a severe strain on the remaining land’s ability to filter out nutrients and pollutants. Dissolved oxygen in the deepest waters appears to be declining.
Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains form a biosphere reserve (designated in 1989). In 1990, the federal Lake Champlain Special Designation Act was signed into law. 20,000 to 40,000 migratory birds use the Lake Champlain Valley during spring and fall migrations. The lake is home to more than 90 species of fish. The Lake Tahoe basin provides habitat for more than 290 species of animals and more than one thousand species of plants.

Lake facts provided by: Worldlakes.org