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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!”