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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.