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Memphremagog Watershed Association

posted Nov 26, 2014, 1:13 PM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Sep 2, 2015, 8:22 AM ]

Vermont's Lake Memphremagog Watershed

The land “Where the Rivers Flow North” makes up one of the state’s two minority watersheds – the other being the Hudson River tributaries in the opposite corner of the state. Vermont’s two largest water basins – Lake Champlain (48%) and the Connecticut River (41%) – understandably grab the most attention, but residents of smaller watersheds are equally passionate about their local waterways. In the westerly portion of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the Clyde, Barton,and Black Rivers flow into Lake Memphremagog - a jewel of a lake that, like Champlain, straddles the international border and flows off north into the St. Lawrence River.

Lake Memphremagog from Shattuck Hill
Unlike Lake Champlain, Memphremagog has long swaths of relatively undeveloped shoreline, but it nonetheless faces similar challenges with phosphorous loading from surrounding developed lands. 

An early incarnation of the Memphremagog Watershed Association (MWA) was organized in the 1990’s by a small group of like-minded volunteers, including Karen and Kevin Coffey of Irasburg. The group worked with farmers to establish river buffers and completed a significant bank stabilization project on Lord’s Creek. The organization languished when the Coffeys moved to New Hampshire, but was
resurrected in 2007 by a new group of enthusiasts.

MWA members highlight their partnership with the Eagle Point WMA at 
a local parade.
Key lesson? It’s the people who make things happen! Chet Greenwood, first President of the new MWA, developed the group’s website and tracks legislative issues. Successor Don Hendrich leads projects to implement the tactical basin plan for the watershed. Perry Thomas, recent past President, prioritizes education about conservation strategies and working through diverse partnerships (past partners include Beck Pond LLC, NorthWoods Stewardship Center, UVM Extension Master Gardeners, and the Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds). Mary Pat Goulding took over the president's chair when Perry took a position at Vermont DEC Lakes Program. An active 12-member board fills in, each according to his/her own strengths.

Perry at CCV, with 
Memphremagog behind.

Perry is a life-long water researcher, advocate, and teacher. Coordinator of Academic Services at the Community College of Vermont in Newport, she also teaches an on-line aquatic ecology course that she developed with another faculty member. With students scattered across the state, she adapts field labs to the on-line format and uses EPA’s watershed academy as a resource. Perry is also a Watersheds United Vermont advisor, where she helps remind us that the fringes of the state are important too.

Ben Copans, DEC watershed coordinator, also played a key role in reinvigorating MWA. At community meetings he convened during tactical basin planning, attendees learned about water stresses and solutions and came together as a group to take action. MWA continues to
participate in watershed planning, and will help with revisions as the Memphremagog TMDL for phosphorous is finalized (currently in the quantitative modeling phase, with a draft TMDL expected by spring 2016). 

MWA funds its activities through membership dues and depends on volunteers and public enthusiasm to get things done and spread the word.
A sampling of recent activities includes:

  • Collaborated with the Vermont Fish Wildlife Department as stewards of the Eagle Point Wildlife Management Area in Derby, VT;
Bald eagle at Eagle Point WMA.

  • Managed an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE) study of municipal stormwater systems in the watershed, with follow-up activities to address sources of contaminated runoff documented by the study (coordinated with Ben Copans and funded by Vermont’s Ecosystem Restoration Program);

  • With the NorthWoods Stewardship Center, hosted a popular paddle along the upper Clyde River.  
Paddlers explore the upper Clyde River on a MWA-sponsored tour.

  • Maintained a presence at the Newport Farmers’ Market, selling rain barrels and providing information about other conservation strategies;

King Boyd, Valerie Dillon, and Pam Ladds of MWA educate about stormwater and 
sell rain barrels at the Newport Farmers Market.
  • Hosted an annual Watershed Workshop, which this year linked up with lake associations across the watershed to spread the word about Vermont’s new shoreland protection regulations;


  • Hosted an educational panel discussion about hazards to Northeast Kingdom waterways if an existing oil pipeline is converted to transport Canadian tar sands oil.

Annie Mackin of the National Wildlife Federation explains a proposal to 
reverse the flow of a pipeline to accommodate oil from Canadian tar sands.

  • Restored a riparian area in a visible Newport location, with informational signs to explain its function; 

UVM Extension Master Gardener Kathy Brule-Lazzara 
assists with riparian restoration project in Newport.
  • Developed an architectural concept for an urban lakescape at Newport’s Railroad Square, that will hopefully be adopted by the City Council. The project is funded by an ERP grant to the Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds.

Perry Thomas of MWA explains the importance of shoreline 
vegetation for littoral habitat.
Perry believes that MWA should find messages that resonate with each audience so that participants themselves become spokespersons. She points to a recent “buffers for blue waters” workshop as the perfect confluence of lake science, public education, and advocacy. 

After exploring the ecology of the littoral zone, observing invertebrates through a microscope, and discussing the effects of removing shoreline vegetation, one participant exclaimed “I had no idea how many tiny creatures lived in this area. I wish I knew about it sooner and I’m going to see that my family and friends understand as well.”