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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.”