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Regional Conservation Partnership Program Kickoff Highlights Plans to Protect Lake Champlain

Conservation partners develop strategies to address water quality in Lake Champlain Basin of Vermont and New York  

Richmond, Vermont, April 30, 2015—In January of this year, Governor Shumlin joined together with USDA and other state and local conservation partners to announce that USDA awarded $16 million to help address pollution in Lake Champlain. Now, local conservation partners are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. On Thursday, April 30, Shumlin presided over the official kickoff of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) which was hosted at Conant’s Riverside Farm in Richmond.  RCPP is administered by the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“Lake Champlain and clean running rivers and streams are critical to Vermont’s prosperity and quality of life, as are our farms and working forests,” Governor Shumlin said. “And I could not be more pleased with our partnership with NRCS and many other partners to achieve this shared goal.” said Shumlin.

RCPP provides opportunities to expand and strengthen existing partnerships that are already coordinating to help protect and improve water quality in the Lake Champlain Basin. The lake is a treasured resource in Vermont and those living near it in New York. It provides outstanding habitat for wildlife, recreational opportunities, and drinking water to over 200,000 people.  

Vermont USDA-NRCS State Conservationist Vicky Drew said, “The lake has suffered from high amounts of nutrients, and by working with farmers and forest landowners to voluntarily implement conservation, we can improve the quality of this precious natural resource.” She explained that NRCS has been working closely with the State of Vermont since January to develop a work plan for the next five years.  “After three months of strategic planning and analysis of resource needs, our conservation partners have developed very thorough plans for how and where they will use RCPP funding to allocate technical and financial resources where they are most needed.”  

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources will receive $16 million in RCPP funding to help landowners in the Lake Champlain Basin of Vermont and New York invest in the best conservation practices to help improve water quality. Most of the funding for water quality practices will be targeted to conserved farms in the Lake Champlain basin. In addition, funds will be available to help stabilize eroding forest trails and access roads, as well as restoration of wetlands. A new initiative, the Environmental Stewardship Program, will incentivize farmers to exceed regulatory requirements by going above and beyond, particularly in high priority watersheds such as St. Albans Bay, Missisquoi Bay and the South Lake areas.

The Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD) will receive $800,000 to target small farms in the Lake Champlain Basin. The goal is to boost the implementation of agronomic practices aimed at enhancing soil quality and improving water quality by reducing excessive phosphorus and sediment contamination of surface waters. The project will help small farm operators make the most appropriate conservation decisions by helping them develop nutrient management plans, and by providing extensive one-on-one technical assistance. VACD also plans to target outreach and education efforts to small dairy and livestock farm operators – many who are beginning farmers.

“It’s not every day that we are afforded with the opportunity to provide this level of resources to our private landowners,” concluded Drew.  She also explained that USDA-NRCS is working very closely with RCPP entities to ensure that resources align with priority needs and concerns. “We knew how essential it was to strategically coordinate and create a unified plan across the partnership that will bring together both technical and financial resources needed to accelerate our work on Lake Champlain.”