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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.