Burlington Free Press: Data – phosphorus runoff drops
Lake Champlain is a valuable and treasured resource in Vermont. It provides drinking water, recreational opportunities and, of course, spectacular scenery. Through voluntary conservation, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has worked hand-in-hand with local producers to plan and improve soil and water management practices throughout its adjacent watersheds.
Although NRCS is just one of the many entities working in close partnership with farmers to ensure the future health of Lake Champlain, I am pleased to report that recently analyzed models indicate a reduction of phosphorus runoff into the lake as a result of these effective efforts.
This is encouraging, especially during this time of the year, when we see the impacts of polluted runoff in the form of blue-green algae blooms, which can be harmful to pets and people. This data is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the farmers in the basin. I applaud each and every one of you for going above and beyond to ensure that your farming practices are helping improve soil and water quality.
In 2015, NRCS developed a “Strategic Watershed Planning Approach.” This five year plan targets the most impaired watersheds – those known to contribute higher concentrations of agricultural phosphorus runoff to the lake. Over the past two years, we have targeted financial and technical resources to St. Albans Bay, Pike River, and Rock River in Franklin County, and McKenzie Brook in Addison County. We worked closely with our state and local conservation partners to help farmers install conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, including practices such as reduced tillage, nutrient management, cover crops, permanent seeding, buffers, and prescribed grazing.
I am thrilled we are able to use these early estimates to let farmers know their efforts are making a difference in the health of Lake Champlain. And I urge farmers in these four target areas to visit with their local NRCS office to explore the assistance available to them.
We have estimated total phosphorus reductions for the first year of the five year project, and you can see these encouraging results at http://bit.ly/VTwatersheds
We remain committed to working with Vermont’s farmers, in the basin and beyond, who are doing their part to ensure our state’s natural resources are protected. And, the recent rollout of the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP) is an ideal way to reward and recognize Vermont’s conservation farmers. This unique program is a partnership effort between the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, USDA-NRCS, the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension.
I believe that farmers who are going above and beyond to protect and improve the natural resources on and around their farming operations should be publically recognized for their stewardship.
Our ultimate goal is to show measurable water quality improvement as a result of targeted conservation efforts, and we will continue to monitor our progress and share the impacts of conservation within the Basin. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement on additional target watersheds. There is much more work to be done, but I am confident that the dedication and perseverance of Vermont’s farmers will help the state reach its goals, and that collectively, we can protect our beloved Lake Champlain.
Vicky M. Drew, of Georgia, is the the state conservationist with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.