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Aske Marina Burlington VermontProtecting the Surface Waters of Vermont

Besides the beautiful green mountains, Vermont is well-known for water resources. From the highest mountain streams to majestic Lake Champlain, Vermont's water systems provide unique animal habitat, human recreational opportunities, and help to sustain the people who live here. 

Please see our Water Resources page for information on current activities and partner contacts.

While Lake Champlain tends to be the focus of NRCS water quality work in Vermont, many other areas have been identified as target priorities. The Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership (VAWQP) is dedicated to collaborating with and supporting agricultural producers in their efforts to improve water quality. Learn more here.

National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI)

As USDA’s premiere water quality initiative, NWQI provides a way to accelerate voluntary, on-farm conservation investments and focused water quality monitoring and assessment resources where they can deliver the greatest benefits for clean water.

NWQI has been extended through Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, with some updates to strengthen program delivery. Updates include a focus on watershed assessment and planning and use of multi-year budgets to demonstrate long-term commitment in assisting water quality efforts.

NRCS invested over $30 million in targeted assistance to help farmers and ranchers improve water quality in high-priority streams and rivers across the country in 2020. In FY21, NRCS will have 175 watersheds receiving financial assistance, and 211 watersheds total that will be developing watershed assessments and outreach strategies.

Source Water Protection

NEW! View a fact sheet highlighting NWQI and Vermont's 5 Source Water Protection Areas here

In FY19, NRCS expanded the scope of NWQI to include source water protection, including both surface and ground water public water systems, and is now a special component of NWQI. Focus is on those agricultural lands located within a source protection area of a public water system. The Source Protection Area (SPA) is the area through which contaminants are reasonably likely to reach a public water system's drinking water source (ie. well, spring, reservoir, lake, river). The SPA boundaries determine the recharge area that supplies water to a public water source. There are 9 implementation projects and 14 readiness projects in FY21. NWQI assists partners in adapting and expanding source water protection plans to identify critical source areas needing further treatment related to agricultural land uses in an effort to protect and reduce the risk to drinking water sources.

Vermont NRCS' 5 identified source water protection areas (SWPA's) are:

  • Headwaters of the Passumpsic River
  • portions of the Vernon Dam Watershed
  • South Stream Wallomsac River
  • Jail Branch
  • Headwaters of Brown River

Eligible farmers in these watersheds can receive increased payment rates to install key high priority conservation practices that address source water protection. See the map below.

Highlights of Source Water Protection Areas (SWPA)--
• Identifying local priority areas for drinking water protection in each state is done in collaboration with State Technical Committees and community water systems and may address concerns about either the quality or quantity of source water or both.
• Providing increased incentives for practices that relate to water quality and quantity and protect drinking water sources while also benefitting producers.

Conservation practices were identified to support the objectives of the source water protection plans in the five Vermont watersheds.

Conservation Crop Rotation-328

Cover Crop-340

Ground Water Testing-355

Riparian Forest Buffer-391

Filter Strip-393

Heavy Use Area Protection-561

Nutrient Management- 590

Pest Management Conservation System-595

Agrichemical Handling Facility-309

Well Decommissioning-351

SWPA Watershed Contacts:

Headwaters Passumpsic River Watershed--Newport NRCS Field Office at 802-624-7013

Vernon Dam, Connecticut River Watershed--Brattleboro NRCS Field Office at 802-689-3037

Headwaters of the Brown River--Middlebury NRCS Field Office at 802-771-3038

Jail Branch--Middlebury NRCS Field Office at 802-771-3038

South Stream Wallomsac River--Rutland NRCS Field Office at 802-334-6090 ext. 7010

Conservation Partner Contact: Laura Ranker, Source Water Protection Specialist, Vermont Department of Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, VT Dept. of Environmental Conservation, (802) 828-1535

NWQI and SWPA Map FY 2022