August 28, 2020— As National Water Quality Month comes to an end, the Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership (VAWQP) celebrates the progress that has been made in protecting Vermont’s water quality, while looking forward to water quality improvements yet to be accomplished. The leadership of the VAWQP is encouraged by data indicating measurable results in water quality improvement, thanks to farmer efforts and a strong conservation commitment from the partnership.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, a VAWQP member organization, released its annual performance report which showed that state and federal funding programs, coupled with water quality regulations, prevented an estimated 16.4 metric tons of phosphorus from entering Lake Champlain last year.
Specifically, in the agricultural sector, farmers have already achieved 11% of the agricultural phosphorous reduction requirements in the Lake Champlain phosphorus reduction plan, or TMDL. The stewardship efforts of Vermont’s farming community represented 97% of the overall watershed phosphorous reduction reported in Lake Champlain in the year 2019.
These figures highlight that farmers are accelerating their adoption of conservation practices that benefit water quality and soil health. State and federal assistance from VAWQP member organizations help farmers install practices like crop rotations, manure injection, reduced tillage and cover crops, and riparian forested and grass buffers. Currently farmers grow cover crops, which reduce runoff, on over 34% of Vermont cropland, and many farmers utilize their own resources to ensure they are protecting the resources on, and around, their own farms. All of these stewardship efforts have resulted in improved soil health and water quality.
“Vermont farmers have been, and continue to be, dedicated to clean water and changing the way they farm to help protect our state’s natural resources,” said Anson Tebbetts, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets and a member of the VAWQP leadership team.
Throughout August, as Vermont residents and visitors enjoy the recreational and environmental benefits of Vermont’s remarkable rivers, lakes, and ponds, National Water Quality Month reminds us to take a moment to consider how important these fresh water sources are to every user and inhabitant of the ecosystems. They are intrinsically valuable, not just for a refreshing summer swim or paddle, but also for the fish, plants, and animals that reply on them for food and habitat.
August also often corresponds to low lake levels, high temperatures, and heavy rain events - conditions conducive to cyanobacteria blooms (blue-green algae). Blooming of toxic cyanobacteria is fed by excessive phosphorus levels in the lake, and these weather events draw attention to the work that we as residents and stewards of Vermont must continue to do to preserve our waterbodies. There is no easy fix to “clean up” our lakes and rivers from the decades of phosphorus loading from municipal waste, urban infrastructure, residential lawns, and agricultural land.
Although it will take time to see the results of water quality improvement efforts translate into notable decreases in the frequency of cyanobacteria blooms, in recent years, significant progress has been made in improving and protecting water quality across all sectors of the state.
“The Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership is proud of the work that Vermont citizens and organizations have done to protect water quality and we applaud the farmers of Vermont for doing their part to protect and improve natural resources, especially in these challenging times,” said Vicky Drew, State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The VAWQP also recognizes that there is much work left to be done, and looks forward to continuing to work with farmers and the broader Vermont community to preserve our lakes and waterbodies for future generations of recreation and aquatic habitat.
To learn more about the Lake Champlain phosphorus Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and the work being done across sectors to achieve the goals of pollution reduction, the Lake Champlain Basin Program, another VAWQP member organization, has created a series of animations and videos that describe these issues in simple terms. The full collection of media is available at www.cleanwaterwork.com. In addition, you can watch NRCS’ Faces of Vermont Agriculture video that showcases the amazing farmers who go above and beyond to protect soil and water in partnership with the entities of the VAWQP (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEn4T2ndCmg&t=693s).
The Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership is a coalition of state and federal organizations dedicated to improving agricultural water quality in Vermont by coordinating efforts to provide education, technical and financial assistance to our farming community. The Partnership collaborates to leverage unique resources, funding mechanisms, technical expertise, outreach techniques, and more. For more information on the partnership and the missions of the partner organizations, and to view the partnership’s annual report and 5-year strategic plan, visit https://vtagcleanwater.org/.
The members of the partnership include: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Farm Service Agency, Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Vermont Extension, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and Lake Champlain Basin Program.