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Vermont Farmers in the Rock River Watershed Can Receive Assistance to Protect and Improve Water Quality

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced an investment of $25 million targeted to help agricultural producers improve water quality in high-priority streams and rivers across the country. Through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), NRCS will help agricultural producers in 187 priority watersheds apply conservation measures that contribute to cleaner water downstream, including the Rock River Watershed in Vermont.

“Clean water is in everyone’s interest, and the National Water Quality Initiative has been successful because it brings together multiple partners in strategic areas to work towards a common goal,” said Vicky Drew, NRCS state conservationist in Vermont. “Restoring health to waterways benefits not just farmers and ranchers, but it also gives their communities safe drinking water and provides healthy habitat for fish and wildlife.”

The goal of NWQI is to implement conservation practices in sufficient quantity within a concentrated area so that agriculture no longer contributes to the impairment of water bodies within these priority watersheds. NRCS and partners work with producers and landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices, such as nutrient management, cover crops, conservation cropping systems, filter strips, terraces and buffers, that improve water quality in high-priority watersheds while maintaining agricultural productivity. Water quality-related conservation practices enhance agricultural profitability through reduced input and enhanced soil health, which results in higher soil organic matter, increased infiltration and water-holding capacity and nutrient cycling.

NRCS in Vermont has focused resources of the NWQI, now in its fifth year, to the Rock River watershed in Franklin County. With the help of local, state and national partners, NRCS identified this sub-watershed of Lake Champlain as a priority where on-farm conservation investment will deliver the greatest water quality benefits.

“This targeted approach provides a way to accelerate voluntary, private lands conservation investments to improve water quality and to focus funds where they are most needed,” said State Conservationist, Vicky M. Drew. “When multiple farms take action in one area, one watershed, it can make a difference. It can stop an algae bloom downstream or keep bacteria from reaching a drinking water source.”

In 2016, NRCS will bolster its water quality efforts by introducing a new evaluation tool in selected NWQI watersheds. The tool will help producers assess how their farm or ranch is operating and the value of conservation already in place, and to identify areas they may want to improve and practices they may want to implement to get them there. 

Known as a resource stewardship evaluation, this new tool integrates many of NRCS’ planning tools, and looks holistically at an agricultural operation’s current management and conservation activities across five natural resource concerns: soil management, water quality, water quantity, air quality and wildlife habitat. With a resource stewardship evaluation, NRCS helps producers develop a conservation plan that best meets their goals and prescribes the right conservation practices. 

NRCS worked with state water quality agencies and other partners to select NWQI watersheds. State water quality agencies and local partners also provide assistance with watershed planning, additional dollars and assistance for conservation, along with outreach to farmers and ranchers. Through NWQI, these partnerships are growing and offering a model for collaborative work in other watersheds.  

The deadline to submit applications in Vermont is March 18, 2016. Contact your local USDA Service Center for more information.

Learn more by visiting the Vermont NRCS EQIP website or contact your local NRCS office.

For the latest conservation updates, follow Vermont NRCS on Twitter @VermontNRCS.