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WUV Member Profiles

Friends of the Mad River

Not all rivers inspire their community members to create a conservation plan entitled “The Best River Ever,” but the iconic Mad River is not just any river. The 26-mile long Mad starts up high in the Granville Wilderness Area, winding its way north through Warren, Waitsfield, and Moretown where it converges with the Winooski. Vermonters who live in the Mad’s watershed, which also includes the upland towns of Fayston and Duxbury, have an identity fiercely rooted in the river, farms and forested mountains that define the valley.

Friends of the Mad River (FMR) was formed in 1990 by a group of citizens concerned with impacts that recent land use decisions, such as a proposed snowmaking pond adjacent to the river, were having on the health of the watershed. As Kinny Perot, President of FMR’s Board of Directors, said: “The river is a mirror of whatever is going on in the watershed. How we treat the land is reflected in the health of the river.” Friends of the Mad River is committed to informed and active stewardship of the Mad River and its 144 square mile watershed. FMR does its work for generations of people and wildlife who call the Mad River Valley home because they believe that a healthy ecosystem, well-informed and engaged people, diverse and sustainable economic opportunities, and a shared love for their special place are the cornerstones of a resilient and thriving watershed community.”

Governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, in 2014, FMR hired Corrie Miller as their Executive Director. Corrie, who has worked as a conservation scientist and director of the Ausable River Association, has brought her wealth of knowledge about watershed science and non-profit management experience to lead the Friends’ diverse programs and restoration projects. Speaking on how FMR has matured over the years, Corrie says: “The Friends has maintained a continued focus on our mission, but adapt to new opportunities and problems as they arise.

Conservation Planning

FMR began its watershed wide conservation planning in 1994, collaborating with the Mad River Valley Planning District to lead a year-long community planning effort to identify both citizens’ and ecological concerns in the watershed and develop solutions. As a culmination, Friends published “The Best River Ever: A conservation plan to protect and restore Vermont’s beautiful Mad River Watershed” in 1995. Among many other projects identified in the plan, the Friends has focused on conserving public access along the Mad River, and later formed the Mad River Watershed Conservation Partnership with the Vermont Land Trust and the Planning District in the early 2000s. The Friends has worked with others to conserve much-loved swimming holes and riverside parks like Warren Falls, Lareau Park and Kingsbury Park. FMR has also worked with landowners to conserve valued upland headwaters through conservation easements and floodplain lands through river corridor easements, incorporating the restoration of riparian buffers when appropriate.

Water Quality Monitoring

The Mad River Watch, started in 1985 by concerned citizens and adopted by the Friends when they formed, is the longest annual volunteer water quality monitoring program in the U.S. The Mad is known for its outstanding natural resource characteristics including 19 swimming holes, white and flat water for paddling, cold water fish habitat and scenic waterfalls, which has made water quality a high priority for the Friends. However, the health of the Mad and surrounding streams has been impacted by stormwater and agricultural runoff and increased sedimentation from streambank instability.

Throughout the summer, Mad River Watch volunteers collect water samples at dozens of sites in the watershed, which are then analyzed by scientists and used to inform bi-weekly water quality reports that are published online in the newspaper and on signs at swimming holes. This past year, Friends of the Mad River completed a study analyzing data from their 31 years of monitoring to identify long term trends in water quality and update their monitoring protocol to better capture data of interest to the community and the state. As a result of the study, in 2016, the Friends reduced their number of monitoring sites to target more problematic areas and enhanced the parameters analyzed.


Recent Projects: Flood Resilience and Stormwater Management

With its steeply sloping hills, narrow headwater valleys, upland ski resort development and village centers right along the river, the Mad River Valley has a suite of rural stormwater management challenges and potential for flood-related damages. Tropical Storm Irene ushered in a paradigm of flood resilience planning and projects around Vermont, with Friends of the Mad River among the groups leading the charge. Immediately following Irene, the Friends began a public outreach and technical consulting initiative to work with landowners to implement better driveway culvert design, since under-sized culverts can increase damages to roads and property from flooding. In 2012 and 2013, the Friends planted 2,300 trees and shrubs along denuded riverbanks to increase stability and provide wildlife habitat. In 2014 and 2015, Friends worked with partners to install two new flood- and fish-friendly culverts under town roads in areas that were particularly vulnerable to flooding.  

Friends has focused on working with partners to implement stormwater management projects at sites across the watershed to both improve water quality and strengthen flood resilience. Thanks to High Meadows Fund, in 2015, Friends of the Mad River, the five watershed municipalities and other partners began collaborating to better manage stormwater across the whole watershed through the Ridge to River initiative. At the core of the Ridge to River initiative is a taskforce whose members seek technical expertise and public input to develop a five-town stormwater management program. Corrie Miller says: “Because stormwater runs across municipal boundaries, managing it better calls for collective planning and action at the watershed level.”

For over 20 years, Friends of the Mad River have implemented educational, restoration and conservation initiatives based on innovative watershed-wide community planning and scientific research. In the face of new challenges, the Friends continues to work with residents of the Mad River Valley to protect the watershed they care so deeply about.

Connecticut River Watershed Council

posted May 11, 2016, 8:48 AM by Unknown user   [ updated May 11, 2016, 8:52 AM ]

Since its founding in 1952, the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) has collaboratively worked to improve the health of the 11,000 square mile watershed in its purview “from source to sea.” Although watershed-scale planning may seem like a no brainer today, the multi-state approach adopted by the CRWC over 60 years ago was novel at the time. CRWC is headquartered in Greenfield, MA, but also has staff and an extensive network of volunteers and partners in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.

The Connecticut River derives its name from the Algonquian word quinetucket meaning “long tidal river.” From its headwaters at the Fourth Connecticut Lake, a glacial pond on the ridgeline between New Hampshire and Quebec, the River flows 410 miles through four New England states before draining into the Long Island Sound. In 1998, The Connecticut was designated as an American Heritage River by President Bill Clinton.

Protecting New England’s largest river is no small feat. CRWC initially worked on documenting the ecological values of the Connecticut, such as providing habitat for the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon, and preventing pollutants like pesticides and sewage from entering the River. Now, CRWC’s work encompasses a broad array of restoration projects, educational outreach, water quality monitoring and policy research across the four-state watershed. CRWC’s VermontRiver Stewards are David Deen (Upper Valley and Southern Vermont) and Ron Rhodes (North Country). Both stewards bring a political background to their current positions- Deen with over 25 years of experience in the Vermont legislator and Rhodes through former work in government in Washington D.C. and Ohio government. Rhodes and Deen both also have fostered a strong connection to the River through their years as professional fly-fishing guides. Deen describes his unique job as: “resisting the bad things that could happen to the Connecticut River and celebrating the good things about the River.” The following are a taste of CRWC’s many projects in Vermont.

No More Deadbeats

Recently, the CRWC Vermont team has focused a lot of its energy on removing “deadbeat dams” along Connecticut tributaries to improve fish passage and restore river flow (click here for a video about their recent removal of the Franconia Paper Mill Dam). The mainstem of the Connecticut has 13 dams, while tributaries in the watershed have hundreds of smaller dams. CRWC currently is working on 6 dam removal projects in headwater streams in Vermont and New Hampshire to enable native fish to migrate upstream. CRWC and partners including Trout Unlimited, the Town of Dummerston and the USFWS recently received a VT Fish and Wildlife Grant to remove the Bagatelle Dam on a tributary of the West River this summer.

In addition to removing these remnants from our logging and small-scale hydropower past, CRWC also works to ensure that hydropower facilities up for re-licensing meet strict environmental and recreational requirements. CRWC offers formal comments, based on years of scientific research, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee when dams in the watershed are up for re-licensing. Ron Rhodes, a CRWC Vermont River Steward, said that CRWC strives to: “help bring landowners to the table (in re-licensing discussions) to ensure their voices are heard about erosion upstream of the dams and other issues. The end goal is that the new federal licenses take into account potential natural resource impacts and allow forcontinued river recreation (such as portages   around dams).”

Tree plantings, Poetry and Brews for the Connecticut

CRWC works with partners throughout the watershed to engage volunteers in completing critical (and fun!) projects. Every September, CRWC

rallies groups in VT, NH, CT and MA for Source to Sea, a weekend of river cleanups along the Connecticut and tributaries. In 2015, 141 local groups with more than 2,300 volunteers participated, hauling out over 50 tons of trash. Angela Mrozinski, CRWC’s Outreach and Events Director, said that after the cleanups, she loves: “hearing the stories and seeing photos of people out there doing good work for our rivers just because they care. It’s inspiring to think of thousands of people working separately yet still together across our watershed.” Aside from the tangible benefit of trash removal, CRWC also encourages groups to submit trash tallies that provide data used to support legislation such as more accessible tire recycling programs. Since 2015, WUV has coordinated with Source to Sea to provide watershed groups with the resources needed to host clean-ups around Vermont as part of River Clean-up month

CRWC also partners with local watershed associations, landowners and volunteer groups to hold tree plantingsthroughout the river basin. In the past four years, CRWC has planted over 11,000 trees in the Connecticut watershed. In Vermont, the plantings have been focused on rehabilitating riverbanks devastated by Tropical Storm Irene; for example, in 2014, CRWC and federal, state and non-profit partners planted 1,300 trees along a washed-out stretch of the Ottauquechee River near Billings Farm.

 In addition to these hands-on opportunities, CRWC staff come up with creative ways to spread the word about the great beauty of and the challenges present in the Connecticut River watershed. Recently, CRWC partnered with Greenfield, MA brewery The People’s Pint to raise funds and awareness about the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon with the release this March of the Shortnose Stout. CRWC’s River of Words provides educational programming that integrates ecology, poetry and history for students and teachers living in the Connecticut’s watershed. The Connecticut River Watershed Council continues to exemplify how an organization can balance watershed-scale thinking with on-the-ground, local solutions. 

Farmers Watershed Alliance

posted May 11, 2016, 8:21 AM by Unknown user   [ updated May 11, 2016, 8:22 AM ]

Farmers Watershed Alliance Board Members

Farmers Watershed Alliance of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties (FWA) was founded in 2006 by Roger Rainville, who had a vision of gathering fellow farmers together to collaborate on water quality issues. Though it has undergone some metamorphoses in recent years, FWA remains a way for farmers to collaborate with each other and for conservation professionals to implement water quality improvement projects. 

FWA is run by a volunteer Board of Directors currently consisting of 14 farmers and other agricultural professionals. Darlene Reynolds, Board Chair, and Larry Gervais, Vice Chair, are both dairy farmers Secretary, Alison F. Maslack, is a veterinarian and Treasurer, Heather Darby, is a UVM extension agent. FWA’s Farm Assessment Coordinator is Jeff Sanders, also a UVM extension agent who volunteers his time with FWA. Dues-paying FWA members are primarily dairy farmers, though Chair Darlene Reynolds said FWA will work with interested non-dairy farmers in their region.

Example of an FWA stream crossing
Farm Assessments: Change is in the…Water Quality

Until recently, FWA focused on developing voluntary Water Quality Protection Plans with farmers. Participating farmers fill out an in-depth survey about existing farm conditions, such as manure storage techniques and waterways present on the farm. The survey is then followed by a Farm Assessment led by Jeff Sanders. Based on the assessment and the farmer’s interest, FWA implements low-cost, water quality improvement projects. Projects developed by FWA include stream crossings for livestock, fencing to keep cows out of waterways, and clean water diversion projects (in which unpolluted water is kept away from manure pits). When the State cut funding three years ago, FWA decreased its on-farm projects and put more energy into outreach to farmers about water quality best practices.

                         Example of an FWA stream crossing 

The passage of Act 64 and the subsequent Required Agricultural Practices that are being developed are changing how FWA implements projects. FWA recently signed a contract with the Department of Agriculture that will fund FWA to work with farmers in implementing priority projects as determined by the Department. 

Jeff Sanders said that the Department of Agriculture contract will change FWA’s approach, “FWA has been so successful because they acted quickly and decisively, while making a difference in water quality. Now, with more parties involved in decision-making, projects will take longer to implement, but I think we will be able to do some larger projects.” Additionally, Sanders said that this new contract will likely enable FWA to implement more projects than it has been able to in recent years. 

Radishes, White Clover and Grassed Waterways

FWA has been at the forefront in encouraging its member farmers to adopt innovative approaches to erosion control. Last year, FWA received an NRCS grant to work with dairy farmers to show the feasibility of inter-seeding fall cover crops with their corn. FWA experimented with twelve cover crop seed blends, which included various amounts of winter rye, radishes, oats and canola. Cover crops are traditionally planted after the fall harvest to prevent soil loss when fields lie fallow, but starting cover crops earlier in the fall extends their growing season and erosion control potential. Darlene Reynolds said that FWA’s cover cropping projects have been successful over the years since, “a lot of farmers have really adopted the process of cover cropping, continuing to plant them on their own after we provided them with initial funding.”

Grassed waterway on farm
FWA also received a $20,000 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to implement three grassed waterway projects in the Franklin/Grand Isle area. Grassed waterways (pictured right, courtesy of NRCS) are gently sloping, vegetated buffers constructed alongside cropland to slow water from adjacent fields and prevent gully formation. FWA has had historic success helping farmers implement grassed waterway projects; Tim Magnant, a Franklin dairy farmer who worked with FWA to install these buffers along his corn fields, says that he can still grow the same amount of hay and corn to feed his cows while also preventing erosion. 

For Farmers, by Farmers

While on-farm projects are the lynchpin of FWA’s work, education and outreach are also critical to FWA’s role as a farmers’ network. Darlene Reynolds, FWA’s chair, said that FWA members testified to House and Senate committees during the creation of the Act 64 bill. As the regulations associated with Act 64 are being hammered out, FWA has kept farmers informed of legislative developments, particularly in regard to understanding and commenting on the new Required Agricultural Practices. FWA also has regular meetings for the Board and other members to discuss upcoming projects and hear presentations from conservation experts. For those farmers too busy to come to meetings, FWA has started publishing a quarterly newsletter that highlights recent accomplishments, upcoming events, and any changes in regulations that farmers should be aware of. 

Farmers Watershed Alliance, almost ten years after its inception, continues to be a “farmer driven organization” that encourages farmers to share best practices in on-farm environmental protection. FWA collaborates with other watershed associations on projects and educational programming, including Friends of Northern Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition. And critically, FWA helps farmers navigate the bold new (and ever-changing) world of water quality regulations and funding. For more information about Farmers Watershed Alliance, contact Darlene Reynolds at farmerswatershedallianceNW@gmail.com

Poultney Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District

posted Feb 9, 2016, 6:55 AM by Lyn Munno

Poultney-Mettowee Watersheds and 
the South Lake Champlain Basin

The Poultney Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District (PMNRCD) was established in 1940, under Vermont’s Soil Conservation Act of 1939, as the first of Vermont’s 14 Conservation Districts. The Conservation Districts were created by the Federal Government in response to the soil loss catastrophes of the dust bowl era.  Originally focused on agricultural soil erosion during post-Dust Bowl years, Vermont’s Districts have expanded their scope to address water quality across the landscape. The PMNRCD is a political subdivision of the state of Vermont, governed by a board of local volunteers that are elected by community members. [Also see the Lamoille County Conservation District profile.]

PMNRCD oversees conservation activities in the fifteen towns that make up the majority of the Poultney and Mettowee Rivers’ Watersheds. As these rivers drain into the southernmost tip of Lake Champlain, the District is also considered part of the Southern Lake Champlain Basin. In recent years, the District has been focused on implementing projects in the Poultney and Mettowee Watersheds that will reduce phosphorous pollution in the South Lake and its tributaries.

Hilary Solomon, District manager, monitoring water quality

Hilary Solomon, whom I interviewed for this profile, works as District Manager for PMNRCD. The District’s Agronomy Outreach Professional is Jennifer Durham Alexander, who came to the District in 2005 with previous experience in horticulture and public outreach. She works with the District’s agricultural producers to implement water quality and soil conservation projects on their land. Beth Miller began working as PMNRCD’s Education and Outreach Coordinator earlier in 2015, bringing a background in youth education and writing. She has been working on PMNRCD’s diverse range of environmental youth and landowner education programs, as well as assisting with the grant and report writing that help fund the District’s activities.

1.What is your background and how did you become involved with PMNRCD?

I have a natural science undergraduate degree with a chemistry emphasis, which included a year studying abroad in Scotland. I always wanted to be an environmental scientist and I took numerous environmental chemistry classes in college and grad school.  My first job out of college was working for a homeowners group in Washington that wanted a management plan for a lake.  

Local students learn about fish in the Poultney River
as part of PMNRCD's annual Ecosystem Exposition

I returned to school for a Master's of Environmental Management with a Water Resource emphases. After graduate school, I worked for the State of Ohio, EPA, in the hazardous waste division.  I also worked for the Ross County Soil and Water Conservation District (in Ohio).  I really enjoyed the work with the Conservation District and realized that I wanted to continue that work when I moved to Vermont.  In 2004, I was hired by the Poultney Mettowee Watershed Partnership as their watershed coordinator and worked very closely with the Poultney Mettowee Conservation District.  I managed the water quality monitoring program and participated in numerous geomorphic assessments, which I enjoyed.

In 2008, I quit to stay home with my two sons and didn't return to work until 2012 when I was hired by the Poultney Mettowee Conservation District to work on a river corridor plan and continue the water quality monitoring work, along with a large stream restoration project.  That eventually morphed into my becoming the District manager, responsible for over 20 grants and two employees.

2. What challenges are unique to the PMNRCD watershed/region?

PMNRCD is located in the South Lake watershed, which is challenged with high phosphorus concentrations and a lack of ‘branding’, or knowledge by local residents that their actions affect the South Lake.  We are located far from the decision centers of Vermont, sometimes lack resources, and usually miss out on the big meetings and political machinations that occur up north. 

3. Could you speak a bit to the changing focus of conservation districts from soil conservation to broader natural resources conservation (within the context of PMNRCD)?

PMNRCD continues to have both agricultural programs and broader programming including stormwater, forestry, watershed assessments, and education programs.  I enjoy the broad scope of the work, especially the assessments and project identification.  Luckily, we have a dedicated employee who is charged with running our agricultural programming, including our Agronomy and Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP), which we run jointly with the University of Vermont Extension.  We are one of the few Districts not housed with NRCS (the Natural Resources Conservation Service), which may also give us additional freedom in exploring our programming capacities, though it makes communicating and partnering with that agency a little more challenging.  

Poultney High School ninth graders work with PMNRCD
 to install a rain garden in their town (2014)

4. What projects are you most excited about right now?

I am excited about all of our recent water quality work in the Flower Brook Watershed (Flower Brook is a tributary of the Mettowee River). We have been conducting comprehensive water quality assessments (based off long-term monitoring sites, headwaters surveys, and geomorphic data) to inform our project identification and implementation. We also have been using grant funds from the High Meadows Fund to develop a community-based planning project that will increase flood preparedness in the Flower Brook watershed towns. For example, we’re working on flood readiness checklists to determine what the biggest flood risks are in each town. And, the District recently found out that we received funds to complete a landscape assessment of phosphorous sources and sinks in the forested areas of the Flower Brook Watershed.  The District and other members of the South Lake Group hope that this comprehensive work in the Flower Brook watershed can be used a model for other sub-watersheds in the greater South Lake watershed.

5. What do you think has been PMNRCD’s most successful program or initiative? 

I think that our ongoing water quality monitoring program (started in 2003) is the most important contribution that the District makes to local conservation efforts. Even though we’ve had trouble funding it, having long-term water quality data and being able to engage local community members as volunteers and citizen scientists is important for our work.  Though the data that we receive from the water sample analysis is difficult to interpret and changes from year to year based on weather and streamflow conditions, the dataset, over time, has been a valuable asset and will be increasingly important as we gain years of data and increase the monitoring locations to capture finer-scale information.

Lewis Creek Association

posted Dec 11, 2015, 8:27 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Dec 11, 2015, 8:27 AM ]

Lewis Creek watershed and nearby "direct-to-lake watersheds" 
where LCA works.
Lewis Creek’s unique location at the southern fringe of Burlington’s sprawl zone, with a mix of impervious surfaces, intact forest and operating farms, makes it an important watershed for riparian land conservation as well as for demonstrating and addressing water quality issues.

The very first glimmers of a Lewis Creek Association (LCA) grew out of a Hinesburg Land Trust project to conserve a riparian parcel. With encouragement from the funder, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Andrea Morgante convened a group of interested citizens to talk about the idea of a conserved greenway along the Creek. Community members met periodically for several months, and eventually concluded that it was important to work watershed-wide to improve the health of the Creek. Lewis Creek Association’s mission is
“to protect,

Parts of Lewis Creek are heavily wooded while others show the 
impacts of erosion from surrounding lands.
maintain, and restore ecological health while promoting social values that support sustainable community development in the Lewis Creek watershed region and Vermont.”

That first summer of 1990, UVM graduate student Linda Henzel worked on a part-time basis to help the group produce maps, inventory streambank problems, and reach out to the public on a variety of sustainable landscape management topics. Aside from fund-raising and project grants, LCA also receives sustained funding from watershed towns (Ferrisburgh, Charlotte, Monkton, Hinesburg, , and Starksboro). With its additional focus on the LaPlatte watershed, LCA also frequently partners with towns such as Shelburne.

Marty Illick accepts the Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence
from Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz.

Marty Illick, a consultant in sustainable land use, was involved from the beginn
ing and began part-time contract work as Executive Director in 1999. In 2015, Marty was recognized for her many years of service with a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence. The award particularly highlighted a collaborative gully stabilization project (see Water Quality Improvement Projects below for details).

With 25 years of work behind it, a summary of LCA work is beyond our reach, but we’ll highlight a few key recent efforts. Watershed work is, by its nature, all connected, but LCA’s activities can be sorted into three broad program areas:

Planning and Data Collection

Before undertaking on-the-ground projects, LCA volunteers and consultants spend time understanding the watershed by sampling water quality and stream life, mapping, and assessing sources of stress such as farm runoff, stormwater or inadequate stream crossings. This work is on-going as LCA is convinced that long-term trend monitoring will help document gradual water quality changes over time as restoration projects accumulate one slow step at a time.

Water Quality Monitoring 

LCA volunteers document flow levels in Charlotte.

LCA’s longest-running assessment activity is monitoring of water quality. Each summer a corps of well-trained volunteers collects water samples – starting with E. coli samples in 1992 and adding phosphorous and other parameters in 1997 and thereafter. Testing is performed by the state’s LaRosa Lab. LCA Advisors Bill Hoadley and Kristen Underwood have worked closely with state staff to improve data reporting and interpretation and sampling methodology, including an emphasis on sampling during high-flow events to identify phosphorus loading and subshed sources of nutrients and sediment that spike during periods of more common high flows. LCA has also pioneered a system of on-going low-level trend monitoring of a few sentinel sites on each river to identify long-term trends, punctuated by periodic more intensive studies in “focus years”.

LCA has also helped expand data collection in adjacent watersheds by supporting efforts of the Addison County River Watch Collaborative (Lewis Creek is now one of the rivers monitored by that group), and the LaPlatte Watershed Partnership with the formation of South Chittenden Riverwatch (LaPlatte River, McCabe’s Brook, Thorp Brook, Kimball Brook).

Other Assessments and Planning
LCA has also conducted or commissioned many other studies that help identify threats to stream health. These include basic stream geomorphic assessments that identify unstable river reaches, bridge and culvert assessments, ecological and habitat assessments, assessments of aquatic habitat quality including water temperature, as well as inventories of stormwater runoff problem sites. Stormwater, biodiversity, and river corridor management plans are then produced that identify management options informed by assessment results.

Restoration and Conservation

Water Quality Improvement Projects

Often, water quality assessments will pinpoint problem sites that LCA has helped address. In 2012, LCA conducted an intensive study of the Pond Brook tributary to Lewis Creek. Previous sampling indicated that the Brook was a serious contributor of sediment and excess nutrients. The Brook was also frequently impaired for swimming due to E.coli levels. More intensive sampling identified specific hotspots, and collaborative partners designed possible solutions to propose to individual landowners along the Brook.

LCA monitoring pinpointed sources of sediment in the Pond Brook 
watershed, and creative design helped restore gullies using on-site 

Last Resort Farm in Monkton expressed an interest in working with LCA to stabilize 6 gullies that originated in farm field swales and delivered extensive sediments to the Brook. Funding and technical expertise from a variety of sources, design consultants, and landowner donations made the project feasible. The final fix involved a combination of rock lined ditches and check dams (standard practice recommended by the Natural Resources Conservation Service) and tree boles and brush (an alternative “softer” – and cheaper – approach). Future monitoring will document success over time. 

Invasive Plant Control

Control of exotic invasive species can be a somewhat discouraging restoration chore, but LCA and partners have seen some success with one species in particular. In 2007, a vigilant citizen found European frogbit in Charlotte’s Town Farm Bay. From 2008-2011, LCA raised funds to do intensive control work and lots of collaborative planning. A field crew was hired to drastically reduce European frogbit cover from 45% to 6%. The goal was to reduce populations to a level controllable by continued volunteer efforts, and in recent years those volunteer efforts have succeeded in keeping the plant at bay. A similar European frogbit control project was started in the lower LaPlatte River. The video below describes that project.

Education and Outreach

Ahead of the Storm is one of LCA’s newest initiatives located in adjacent watersheds north of Lewis Creek in the towns of Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne. This project crosses all three of LCA's program areas, but we’ve slotted it into the education and outreach category since the project is designed to achieve broad public exposure as well as parcel-level benefits. Inspiration and ideas for the project came out of the 2015 Leahy Environmental Summit at ECHO.

The project will install “green stormwater infrastructure” projects at easy-for-public-viewing sites, with signs clearly marking each demonstration site. A public educational event will highlight methods for reducing and absorbing run-off from driveways, a clear part of an “all in” strategy that encourages every landowner to take responsibility for runoff from their own property. Rain gardens and bio-infiltration sites for this project are designed using “optimal conservation practices” that accommodate runoff from future storms, which are predicted to be much more intensive than historical averages.

Lower tier of a two-part rain garden that LCA installed in 2014 in
which absorbs water from a 6.7 acre drainage area.

Demonstration sites include homes, farms, forests, parks, a church, a senior center, a nursery and town garage, and town properties that face erosion problems, including problem road drainage sites that can potentially demonstrate more optimal management practices by using green infrastructure approaches. Maintenance crews in surrounding towns can learn from these demonstrations and be ready to comply with new local roads water quality permits. Future candidate sites will include schools, and an integral part of project design will be to involve students in assessing storm runoff problems, designing mitigation measures, and monitoring success over time, as well as further educating the community about the need to follow suit on their own properties.

The work of Lewis Creek Association will inevitably evolve as its staff and many knowledgeable volunteers seek creative solutions to the water quality problems they’ve documented. As in past years, the group will continue to serve as a model for watershed groups throughout the state who can apply similar solutions to their own landscape. As Marty notes, “Taking good care of our local landscapes with an ever growing network of friends and neighbors is so rewarding. And we are lucky to be working with world class experts who we can learn from every day. I feel so rich!”

Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition

posted Oct 22, 2015, 5:56 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Oct 22, 2015, 5:57 AM ]

CVFC Board Members with state agency officials attend announcement
of USDA funding to help agriculture improve water quality practices,
August 2014.
Members of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition (CVFC) believe that farms can thrive economically while also supporting a clean and healthy Lake Champlain. In today’s often fractious atmosphere, clean water advocates sometimes air their frustration with lack of progress by berating farmers for resisting necessary changes. But this is one group who won’t have to be dragged into the new era of water protection practices. Members from Colchester in the north to Danby in the south have already stepped up voluntarily to adopt best practices

UVM Extension staff Jeff Carter and Kirsten
Workman support CVFC in field and office
on their own farms, and have opened their operations up to the public and neighboring farmers for tours and educational programs in hopes that more agricultural colleagues will follow their lead.

CVFC was officially incorporated in 2013, after several years of blue-green algae blooms focused public attention on the failure of existing pollution regulations to improve Lake Champlain’s water quality. As studies began to identify agriculture as a major source of the lake’s phosphorous loads (over 40% for the Vermont portion of the basin), farmers felt like they were in the bulls-eye. Those who were already committed to water stewardship wanted to be pro-active about solving water quality problems, and they formed a new group to share best practices. 

Water protection measures adopted and promoted by the group include field practices as well as new equipment and infrastructure:

  • Cover-cropping with green manures such as winter rye maintain year-round cover on row-crop fields.
Cover cropping after corn silage is a practice many CVFC farmers have adopted to help prevent erosion and protect water quality.  

  • Reduced tillage increases soil organic matter and maintains a surface mulch of dead vegetation to reduce erosion, increase infiltration and improve soil health.
CVFC members at Deer Valley Farm use the UVM Extension no-till planter to plant corn into a cover crop.  

  • Careful grazing management maintains dense vegetation on pastures and manages travel lanes and water supply to keep animals out of streams and avoid trampled areas.
Alternative water sources (like nose pumps)
and good grazing help protect water quality.

  • Though initial investments are costly, some farmers are injecting manure to avoid surface run-off, and even combining this technology with spreading liquid manure by drag-line to reduce soil disturbance by heavy tank spreaders. (A recent VPR story featured this method at Vermont Technical College.)
CVFC members at Audet’s Blue Spruce Farm, were one of the first farms to adopt the practice of dragline manure applied with an aeration toolbar to incorporate more manure on hay fields.  
The group often sponsors on-farm field days to share what they are learning.
For example:

  • CVFC and UVM Extension partnered up in spring 2015 to hold several no-till corn planter clinics on area farms to help farmers make sure their equipment was in good shape to have successful no-till corn plantings. 
No-till corn planter clinic sponsored by CVFC

  • CVFC and UVM Extension also hosted a Soil Health Field Day at CVFC member, Vorsteveld Family Farm in Panton to look at how farming practices can improve soil health.
Soil health field day

Founding Board & members of the CVFC
Eleven farmer board members lead the organization, with UVM extension staff assistance from Kirsten Workman, Secretary, Jeff Carter, Treasurer, and Nate Severy, Program Coordinator. Membership totals 54, including individual, business and nonprofit supporting members. Individuals can join on the CVFC website.

Brian Kemp (far left) with fellow board members Eric Clifford, Ben Dykema, and
Loren Wood
CVFC members are beginning to receive well-earned public recognition for their pro-active approach. For example, Brian Kemp, who raises organic beef at Mountain Meadows Farm in Sudbury and is currently the President of CVFC, received both the Vermont Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence, and EPA’s Environmental Merit Award, in 2015. The practices that won this recognition, and that may soon become “business-as-usual” for all Vermont farms, include crop covers on all corn ground; aerating soil before spreading manure to improve absorption; rotating grazing to maintain good vegetative cover; 22 miles of fencing to keep cows out of the Lemon Fair River; and buffers along 7 miles of stream to improve the stability of banks and enhance wildlife habitat.

As Vermont revises its Accepted Agricultural Practices, converts them to Required Agricultural Practices, and extends requirements to include smaller farms (the definition for which is still under advisement), positive role models will be critical to help farmers respond with can-do attitudes. Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition members have already started to play that role. President Brian Kemp and new members Rachel and Bill Orr, for instance, explained recently on Vermont Public Radio how they're already adapting to the new requirements. 

Trout Unlimited Southwestern Vermont Chapter

posted Sep 15, 2015, 10:44 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Sep 15, 2015, 10:46 AM ]

Chapter President Jackie Jordan catches a whopper

Southwestern Vermont is home to one of the four active Trout Unlimited chapters in the state (the others are Central Vermont, MadDog, and Upper Valley). Like most TU groups, the Southwestern Vermont chapter happily combines a shared love of fishing with volunteer service to promote healthy aquatic habitat and educate the public about rivers. 

The chapter is lucky to have the enthusiastic leadership of Jackie Jordan, an Orvis employee who has immersed herself in the world of flyfishing during her free time.

TU Southwestern VT Chapter board members at the annual banquet, 2015

Twelve board members share governance of the chapter, including Secretary Gordon Batcheller who also serves on the Watersheds United Vermont Steering Committee. Monthly board meetings often feature an educational speaker or tales of fishing adventures. The annual banquet and auction, a signature event in the calendar of TU chapters all across the country, is a chance to celebrate as well as raise funds to support chapter activities.

The Southwestern Vermont TU Chapter sponsors volunteer opportunities that support healthy river habitat in the region, and also hosts just-for-fun events throughout the year. Activities over the past year include: 
  • a pre-season session to practice casting and knot-tying and swap gear;

  • a showing of the film DamNation;

  •  inventory of stream barriers on the Mettawee River with regional TU staff;
 Art, Joe, Tyler, Gabe, Gordon, Mary, Erin and Chuck survey stream barriers on the Mettawee River.


Tree planting at the Dufresne Dam site, November, 2014

  • annual fly fishing film tour;


Orvis hosts this tour annually, with proceeds going to Southwestern Chapter TU.

  • “Flies and Pies” night where members learn new fly tying techniques and enjoy pizza with friends;
2014 Flies and Pies Night

  • fishing derby co-sponsored with the Green Mountain National Forest at Hapgood Pond in Peru, VT.
24th annual Fishing Derby at Hapgood Pond

  • Trout in the Classroom. TU supplies each classroom with equipment and trout eggs so students can observe the life cycle and growth of trout before releasing fry into a local stream. Chapter member Joe Mark coordinates the program across the state, and in 2014 delivered 900 trout eggs to 5 different classrooms.
Trout in the Classroom students release their trout fry into the Mettawee River.

Southwestern Vermont’s Trout Unlimited Chapter obviously has a lot of fun while doing good deeds for local rivers. As Gordon Batcheller, chapter secretary and long-time wildlife professional notes, “Volunteers are an essential part of fish and wildlife conservation not only in Vermont, but across the country. State fish and wildlife agencies need the talent, skills, and energy of the many conservation volunteers across the country to advance our collective vision for healthy ecosystems. Trout Unlimited volunteers in Vermont are a key component of keeping Vermont waters clean and healthy.”

Lamoille County Conservation District

posted Jul 1, 2015, 6:43 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Sep 15, 2015, 10:47 AM ]

The Lamoille County Conservation District (LCCD) was established in 1945, under Vermont’s Soil Conservation Act of 1939. Vermont’s 14 Districts originated as local boards that guided the activities of what is now the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. Originally focused on agricultural soil erosion during post-Dust Bowl years, Vermont’s Districts have expanded their scope to address water quality across the landscape. Though its territory theoretically includes Lamoille County, the District is involved with projects throughout the Lamoille River watershed. The map at right shows Lamoille County's location in the middle of the watershed.

Lamoille County Nature Center Summer Camp

Among Conservation Districts, LCCD is unique in that it oversees a 40-acre nature preserve, Lamoille County Nature Center. The land was purchased in the early 1960's to allow vocational students to learn about forestry and agricultural practices. The idea of the "nature center" expanded LCCDs mission to include environmental education programs to meet the needs of the people of Northern Vermont. The preserve offers two self-guided nature trails, a small pond, an amphitheater, a willow nursery, and a council size Sioux tipi where summer programs take place under the direction of Carrie Riker, the Education Coordinator.  Carrie also coordinates the state-wide Envirothon program, where student teams focus on Vermont's environmental issues related to forestry, wildlife, soils and water resources through real-world learning in a teamwork environment.

LCCD District Manager Kim Jensen Komer bundles willows
volunteers at Lamoille County Nature Center.
Like all Conservation Districts, LCCD operates under the direction of a District Manager guided by a local committee of supervisors. Kim Jensen Komer, the current District Manager, has a background well suited to LCCD’s broad water-quality mission. Kim has worked in the environmental field for over twenty years as an educator, program manager, and director.  She has experience with several watershed groups on a variety of tasks ranging from restoration projects based on geomorphic assessments to the coordination of public participation for a large-scale EPA Cleanup Agreement on the Housatonic River.  Previously working at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Kim applied her natural science knowledge to include professional development for teachers and environmental citizenship.  Within the Lamoille Watershed, Kim has networked with educational providers, landowners, stakeholders, and field professionals to complete projects to improve water quality that include monitoring, riparian buffer installations, and green stormwater infrastructure projects.

School groups make great tree-planting crews.
LCCD has coordinated Trees for Streams, its signature riparian buffer program, since 1999.  In 2006 under Kim’s guidance the program expanded to include student service learning projects for environmental citizenship throughout the Lamoille River watershed while partnering with neighboring Conservation Districts. To-date the Trees for Streams program has helped plant over sixteen miles of streambank throughout the watershed. LCCD has worked with twenty schools and provided complementary watershed science education. Lamoille River Anglers

Vactor purchased by several towns, with LCCD assistance.
Association, Johnson State College, Sterling College, land trusts, and other community groups have also helped with plantings.

LCCD also helps land managers access shared equipment to implement best practices that avoid impacts to waterways. Portable skidder bridges, available for rent, provide temporary stream crossings that help loggers protect the streambeds and banks. LCCD also worked with area towns to finance a shared hydroseeder for seeding ditches and roadsides to reduce sediment in runoff, and later facilitated a similar collaborative purchase of a Vactor for cleaning sediments from roadside ditches and culverts.

Throughout the years, LCCD has identified and implemented a number of river corridor restoration and protection projects in the main tributaries of the Lamoille including the Gihon River, Centerville Brook, Wild Branch, and Elmore Branch watersheds, and Little River of the Winooski River. These projects include Conservation Reserve Enhancement Projects (CREP), river corridor easement projects, aquatic organism passage projects, floodplain restoration, and green stormwater infrastructure projects. (To see more information about Lamoille watershed projects by LCCD and other partners, see this story map developed by Lamoille Regional Planning Commission.)

Cars embedded in the riverbank prior to restoration.
Through one of its river corridor restoration and protection projects, LCCD addressed a long-standing floodplain problem where the Green River meets the Lamoille in Wolcott. Cars stashed along the river banks by an auto salvage yard had been embedded into the river bank over the years, preventing the river from accessing its floodplain and exacerbating erosion downstream. This project removed the rusted cars and established a 50-foot buffer to restore an acre of intact floodplain. Lamoille Union Middle and High School students and members of the Lamoille River Angler Association helped plant several hundred trees.

People's Academy Bioretention, before (above) and after (below).

Another example of LCCD's work to protect water quality, includes work with local schools to address sedimentation and non-point source pollutants entering local waterways. Lamoille Union and Peoples Academy schools both received assistance from LCCD to install green stormwater structures on the school grounds that slow runoff and reduce nutrients and sediment entering streams. The Peoples Academy project was first initiated by its Envirothon students. In 2014, LCCD furthered the students' initial investigations by securing grant funds to create and implement two projects on the campus - a bioretention area and large rain garden.  A similar larger project is proposed for the Johnson State College campus, to capture runoff from over 3 acres of impervious surface (roofs and pavement).

In 2013, LCCD worked closely with Caledonia NRCD, and the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD), to create and implement model statewide projects for all Vermont Conservation Districts to apply.  To date, LCCD has provided technical support and guidance for the Vermont Trees for Stream program and the Vermont Portable Skidder Bridge program.  Recently, Kim volunteered to work with Watersheds United Vermont to apply the same model to watershed groups statewide.   As Kim explains, “I like taking a collaborative approach, because it strengthens the success of watershed and river corridor protection and restoration projects for those all across the state who work so hard for a healthier and engaged community.”

Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance

posted May 27, 2015, 4:19 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Sep 15, 2015, 10:48 AM ]

Major rivers in the SeVWA region, all tributaries of the Connecticut
The Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance (SeVWA) has its roots in the West River Watershed Alliance Stream Action Committee, first established in 2002. Soon the group also took on the watersheds of the Williams and Saxtons Rivers (which together with the West constitute the state’s Basin 11 for planning purposes) and later included Whetstone Brook (part of Vermont’s Basin 13). All of these rivers flow into the Connecticut at the state’s far southeastern corner.

Unlike many of the groups profiled earlier which undertake a diversity of activities, SeVWA focuses primarily on water quality monitoring. Over the years, over 50 volunteers have collected samples or served as alternates. These efforts do open a door to deeper community understanding of and involvement with their rivers, as noted in SeVWA’s 2010-14 report: “Through its river monitoring effort, SeVWA seeks to develop a general public understanding of river ecology and foster a broader sense of stewardship in the region’s citizenry.” 

Water monitoring sites in 2014

SevWA’s water quality program has operated from 2003 to the present day, with a brief hiatus in 2009 due to the potential lack of state funding for the LaRosa lab. SeVWA’s board continued to meet, and as soon as funding was again available, continued its water quality monitoring. A volunteer coordinator as well as the teams of samplers devoted many hours to this effort. Sampling at 20-24 sites each year tests E. coli levels at popular swimming holes, and performs chemical analysis for sites where data were lacking or where a problem is suspected. For a few years, the group also sampled benthic macro-invertebrates. Test results are available through a website established by the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) and partners to promote public recreation on the river, and reports are also available on SeVWA’s own website. E. coli results for swimming holes are also released to print media and posted on kiosks to ensure public access to this information.

Indian Love Call swimming hole on the Rock River

For SeVWA and many other watershed groups, public interest in water sampling peaks during swimming hole season. The sample chart below, from a SeVWA summary report, shows E.coli test results for the lower West River in 2014.*

                                                    E. coli results for lower West River in 2014

For five (5) years, SeVWA benefited from the expertise of Laurie Callahan, a private contractor who oversaw the monitoring program and compiled results. A series of interns (often shared with the Ottauquechee River Group to the north and Vermont Agency of Natural Resources) assisted with collecting and transporting water samples. Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s LaRosa lab analyzes most water chemistry samples, while E.coli samples for the last few years have gone to the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s Greenfield, MA lab under an arrangement with Vermont DEC. Interns often benefit from learning the lab procedures and working with experts at the CRWC lab.

Stickney Brook. By permission of the artist, Georgie Runkle, Marlboro

In addition to its core water sampling focus, SeVWA also helps educate the public by participating in regional events such as the Strolling of the Heifers, Herrick Cove’s Wildlife Festival, and the Wildlife Festival at Hogback Mountain.

Since 2012, SeVWA participated in CRWC’s September Source to Sea river cleanup by tackling three sites, again facilitated by Laurie Callahan.

The organization is also interested in preventing the spread of Japanese knotweed by educating people about preventing its spread and treating existing infestations.

Gloria Cristelli, SeVWA President
Gloria Cristelli, current Board President, first volunteered to sample water for SevWA in 2008. She had just returned to Vermont from Taiwan, where she helped create an interdisciplinary unit on watersheds for the Taipei American School. Along with the science teacher on the team, she discovered a river source which the students visited as part of their field trips for science, art, and poetry writing. As an English-as-a-second-language teacher, Gloria created parallel humanities lessons for her students. Gloria was born in Morrisville, Vermont and was a river recreator as a youth, walking over four miles round trip (the last two uphill!) to swim in the closest swimming hole.

With only four members, SeVWA’s current Board demonstrates the importance of quality over quantity. Jeremy Shrauf coordinates volunteer efforts, including stream monitoring, Cris White is Secretary and also a stream team leader, and Erik Skarsten heads up educational activities.

Vermont DEC’s E. coli standard for Class B waters has since been revised – maximum value for the geometric mean is now 126 organisms per 100 ml, with no more than 10% of a season’s samples above the EPA’s swimmable threshold.

Franklin Watershed Committee and Missisquoi River Basin Association

posted Apr 16, 2015, 10:44 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Sep 2, 2015, 8:25 AM ]

This month’s profile features two neighboring watershed groups who have joined forces to share staff and resources. Their successful collaboration may offer a model for groups elsewhere in the state.

The Franklin Watershed Committee (FWC) is one of the smallest watershed groups in the state in terms of area covered, but one of the largest in terms of concentrated impact. FWC grew out of concerns about water quality in Lake Carmi, a 1,400-acre lake in the northern Vermont town of Franklin. As for much larger Lake Champlain, phosphorous overloads from surrounding lands cause frequent summer algae blooms in Lake Carmi. Concerned citizens recognized that broad and deep landowner education would be required to reduce nutrient loads from croplands, eroding shorelines, poorly maintained roads, septic systems and other land uses in the watershed.

Lake Carmi algae bloom, 2014

A subcommittee of the Lake Carmi Campers Association decided to tackle the watershed-wide causes of lake degradation by founding the Franklin Watershed Committee in 1994. FWC worked with farmers and lakeshore landowners to improve management practices on the ground. FWC also engaged at the policy level, supporting Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation work to define a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for phosphorous, approved by the US EPA in 2009.

Thanks to federal funding via Section 319 of the Clean Water Act (traditionally used to fund grant programs to help communities address nonpoint pollution sources), FWC was able to hire part-time coordinator Heidi Britch-Valenta in 2008. The organization has also used AmeriCorps volunteers, and in 2013 it hired Alisha Sawyer for a position shared with the Missisquoi River Basin Association. In 2015, FWC hired a new Coordinator, Jessica Draper. Unfortunately, due to a combination of federal and state budget cuts, 319 funds are no longer available in Vermont as pass-through grants, adding to the challenge for small groups like FWC.

True to its founding, to this day many committed FWC Board members own camps or recreate on Lake Carmi, and that connection keeps the organization tightly focused on its mission. The TMDL has also helped FWC focus its actions on projects most likely to improve water quality. Here is a sample of what they accomplished from 2011 – 2013:

  • 44 pump outs 
  • 179 properties include in a septic study 
  • Water conservation meeting with 27 attendees 
  • 8 low flow toilets and 75 Low flow shower heads installed
  • 37 shoreline surveys
  • 275 volunteer hours cleaning up a public beach
  • 325 feet of shoreline buffers established on 12 properties
  • 750 cubic feet of sediment removed from 375 feet of shoreline
  • 2 plunge pools installed
  • 2 water bars installed
Vermont Youth Conservation Corps
repairs eroding lake shoreline.
Stream Surveys and Repair:
  • 250 feet of stream stabilized 
  • 5 culverts replaced and 1 culvert clean out 
  • 31 cubic yards of sediment removed from brook 
  • 500 feet of ditch seeded down to slow water and reduce sediment loss
  • State park ditch rebuilt
  • Farm ditch stabilized
School children help plant
streambank buffer trees
 Rain garden planting, 2010

Road Stabilization

  • Infiltration bed installed
  • 500 feet road improved (Better Back Roads Phase II)
Rock lining for a ditch 
leading to Lake Carmi
 Farm Phosphorous Reduction:
  • 100 feet filter sock installation 
  • Leachate plantings 
  • 233 acres cover cropped (BMP $) 
  • 330 feet of farm road repaired (BMP$) 
  • 1 nutrient management plan (BMP$)

Tim Magnant explains grass waterways to reduce sediment runoff during
the FWC, MRBA, FNLC and UVM Extension summer farm tour
[St. Albans Messenger photo.]
 Outreach and Education:
  • Water sampling program, presentation 
  • Community events: Pancake breakfast, Memorial Day parade, Tree giveaway (200), Plant sale 
  • 75 attendees, FWC Annual meeting 
  • 88 attendees, FWC agriculture information session 
  • 55 students, classroom presentation 
  • 73 participants, tree planting 
  • 50 participants, rain garden demonstration 
  • 46 new members through membership drive

School group prepares to help plant a stream buffer on a local farm
Missisquoi River Basin Association

Missisquoi River, NOAA photo

Surrounding Lake Carmi and its tributaries is the 1,200 square mile basin draining into Missisquoi Bay, one of Lake Champlain’s hotspots for phosphorous concentration and resulting algae blooms. With about 40% of the basin located in Quebec, the Missisquoi River Basin Association (MRBA) is one of the state’s most active cross-border watershed efforts. MRBA sponsors assessments and monitoring, field projects to restore streambank buffers or address other runoff problems, and offers public and school-based education programs, all with a corps of volunteers and minimal paid staff.

Alisha Sawyer, with consultant Brian Jerome, testifies about 
critical source areas for northern Lake Champlain.

For many years Cynthia Scott served as part-time Executive Director of MRBA. Recognizing that MRBA shared a common mission and similar needs with the Franklin Watershed Committee, in 2013 the two neighboring groups joined forces to hire a single coordinator. Alisha Sawyer was previously Executive Director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, and she has brought her organizational and outreach skills to this new position.

MRBA focuses on five main types of work:

Restoration Projects: 

Field projects bring willing volunteers to assist landowners with tree planting, seeding, ditch improvements, livestock fencing and other practices that reduce runoff.
The nuns of the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westfield help plant trees.

Compost filter socks reduce sediment in runoff from farm fields and roads
National Community Conservation Corps crew seeds and lines a roadside ditch
Monitoring and Assessment:

Volunteers collect water samples at some 20 sites on the Missisquoi and its tributaries throughout the summer. MRBA has also worked with consultants to conduct geomorphic assessments of many tributaries plus a portion of the main river
Phosphorous sampling results for 2012
Conducting a geomorphic assessment
River Cleanups:

Since 1997, day-long river cleanups have improved multiple stretches of the river by removing plastics, tires, metal and other trash from multiple sites along the river
Volunteers remove trash and debris during a river clean up effort

Staff, interns and volunteers hold an annual public forum to present information about the river, water quality and assessments, and other relevant topics. In the local schools, a “Bugworks” program teaches 5-6 graders the role of invertebrates in stream health and a watershed model illustrates how water travels across the landscape and potentially delivers pollutants to waterways. And the organization partners with Friends of Northern Lake Champlain on public events throughout the field season, including farm tours and a legislative breakfast.

MRBA at Richford, VT River Fest, 2014
Protection and Advocacy:

In 2010, MRBA was instrumental in securing public access to a river site below the Bridge of Flowers and Light in Enosburg Falls, in collaboration with the Vermont River Conservancy.

Beginning in 2004, a few MRBA stalwarts began studying and promoting Wild and Scenic River status for the Upper Missisquoi and its Trout River tributary. After prolonged study and considerable public input, the US Congress made the designation official in December, 2014. Although this campaign was not formally an MRBA project, it did benefit from community awareness of and concern for the river that MRBA had built over the years.

Despite its focus on progress on-the-ground, MRBA also gets pulled into the policy arena to speak out on behalf of water quality and seek public resources to support the work.

Parts of the Trout and Missisquoi Rivers achieved Wild and Scenic status in 2014

MRBA Chair John Little addresses the VT legislature about Lake Champlain cleanup

According to EPA’s latest TMDL calculations, Missisquoi Bay must reduce its phosphorous load by 66% in order to restore health to the northern portion of the Lake Champlain – a greater reduction than any other lake segment. Fortunately, crisis sometimes inspires people to pull together, and the five watershed organizations in Vermont’s northwest corner are no exception. Franklin Watershed Committee and Missisquoi River Basin Association work closely with Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (profiled earlier), Farmers Watershed Alliance and St. Albans Area Watershed Association (profiles coming up in future months) to partner on field projects, host joint events, and share resources. Other critical partners include landowners, towns, regional planning commissions, state and federal agencies, private consultants, schools, tourism businesses, and volunteer service learning organizations. Fortunately, public awareness has never been higher, as it will take all hands on deck to heal our ailing waterways.

Batten Kill Watershed Alliance

posted Mar 13, 2015, 6:36 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Sep 15, 2015, 10:46 AM ]

The Batten Kill is a well-known trout stream in southwestern Vermont and eastern New York. 
Photo from the 2007-12 Trout Management Plan, VT ANR.
Since 2001 the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance has worked to improve the health of the Batten Kill River, a tributary of the Hudson, on both the Vermont and New York sides of border. The river lovers who founded the Alliance banded together to address eroding banks and unstable channels, improve fish habitat, and help resolve conflicts among river users and landowners. In addition to its on-the-river projects, the Alliance also reaches out to the public to deepen understanding of river dynamics.

Like many watershed groups, the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance first came together in response to a series of crises. Anglers first noticed a decline in the river’s renowned trout starting in the 1990’s. Then severe floods in December 2000 washed out roads, eroded fields, and undermined houses. The damage demonstrated how vulnerable the Batten Kill was, and galvanized both local citizens and state and federal agency staff to take action.

The fledgling organization got a major boost in the form of start-up funding through the Green Mountain National Forest, which allowed the Alliance to hire staff in 2003 and gear up quickly. Other funding sources to-date include membership donations, Trout Unlimited chapters in both Vermont and New York, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Trout & Salmon Foundation, the Orvis Company, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont's Ecosystem Restoration Program, and the US Environmental Protection Agency through the River Network.

Executive Director Cynthia Browning
The Alliance is governed by an eleven member Board that includes landowners, anglers, canoeists, and other community members from both states. Current Executive Director Cynthia Browning attended early stakeholder meetings because her family owns property along the Batten Kill around Benedict Brook, and she cares deeply about these stream systems. She soon joined the first Board of Directors, and was eventually recruited as the Alliance’s second Executive Director.

Like most effective people, Cynthia Browning is way too busy. A Ph.D. Economist, she spends her summers shepherding Alliance projects, and her winters in Montpelier as state representative for Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and Sunderland. Last year, she introduced the "Bug Bill” (H814), which proposed a pilot project to document how large woody debris in streams can reduce pollution - by capturing sediment (with associated nutrients such as phosphorous) and by fostering aquatic insects that consume and store nutrients. 

Scientific studies have posited that the problems with the Batten Kill trout fishery result from too little cover and shelter, so the Alliance has dedicated most of its resources to restoration of this habitat component by installing multiple structures of wood and stone. These structures are designed to address erosion and improve river dynamics as well. The Alliance has done this kind of restoration along about eight sections of the river in Vermont and five in New York. Methods have been tweaked over the years, and extensive post-project monitoring has documented the success of these techniques. As Cynthia notes, "We listened to the fish and we listened to the river and we continually adjust what we are doing to get the most benefit for the fishery from the resources available.”

Because of its broad and diverse base of support, the Alliance is also able to improve communication and reduce conflicts among river users and landowners. Public education efforts include one or two meetings a year featuring a presentation about an aspect of rivers and stewardship, several newsletters each year, a website featuring scientific reports and extensive descriptions of past projects, and a News from the Batten Kill Facebook page.

Alliance projects completed over the years have included:

  • Developing corridor management plans for the Batten Kill River and several tributaries;

  • Installing cover such as woody debris, and channel structures such as rock vanes, to improve fish habitat;

Log structures provide cover for trout.

Google Earth view of work-in-progress–
large trees sunk in the channel and
weighted with rocks.

  • Planting buffers to protect streambanks and riverfront properties;
VYCC Crew at Mill Brook bank stabilization
site in Rupert, VT.

  • Using large trees, often with root wads intact, to help protect streambanks from highly erosive flows during flood events;
Two views of root wads installed at the base of 
an unstable bank in Manchester.

  • Removing an artificial berm at a campground that deflected flood waters, destabilizing the opposing bank;

Berm removal at campground, during and 

after, with collapsing opposite bank.

  • Assisting the town of Arlington with replacing an undersized culvert with a large open-bottom structure that restored a natural streambed and reduced costly washouts;

Benedict Brook culvert, before and

after during high winter flow, Arlington, VT

  • Sponsoring River Stewards who patrol the river to collect data on public use, and educate river users about good stewardship – including how to avoid spreading invasives such as “didymo” algae;
A river steward on patrol to educate users
about “Rules of the River”.

  • Treating Japanese knotweed infestations along the river in Manchester;
Volunteers learn about recommended methods for
Japanese knotweed control..

  • Helping replant and restore formerly flooded areas after the state removed Dufresne Pond dam on the East Branch of the Batten Kill (with partner Southwest Vermont Chapter of Trout Unlimited);

Partners from Southwest Chapter Trout Unlimited meet with Fisheries Biologist Ken Cox to plan restoration planting at the former Dufresne dam site.

  • Receiving donations of riverfront land, since conveyed to the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife for habitat restoration and public access, and negotiating permanent easements that allow free migration of the river within the stream corridor.
Protected stretch of the Batten Kill (with natural woody debris!) donated by Stonehams, and conveyed to the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In future years, the Alliance intends to continue in-river projects to improve dynamics, lessen erosion, and increase cover and shelter as long as funding and the team of partners that have worked together so well both continue to support the work. Eventually some of the emphasis may shift to planting and protecting wooded riparian buffer zones, which are the best ways to ensure good habitat in the long run.

Cynthia is justifiably proud of the work accomplished to-date by the Alliance. “I think that my involvement in the restoration of the Batten Kill may be the most important activity of my life. I hope so.”

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