Alliance looks at water issues in Vermont

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DEREK CARSON, Staff Writer

ARLINGTON -- The Batten Kill Watershed Alliance’s annual meeting, which was held on Thursday, featured two speakers from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Watershed Management Division.

"Investments that work"

Kari Dolan, Ecosystem Restoration Program manager, gave a presentation entitled "Vermont’s Clean Water Future: Overcoming the State’s Water Quality Challenges." She began by presenting some of the biggest problems facing Vermont water: Algae bloom, sediment (often runoff from roads and construction), and encroachment on flood plains being some of the most significant. She then showed some "Investments that Work," or ways that the state can best spend its limited resources to improve water quality.

Ethan Swift, watershed coordinator for the Poultney Mettowee and Otter Creek watersheds, spoke after Dolan. His presentation was entitled "Using a watershed framework to provide integrated water resource management for the restoration and protection of water resources in Vermont." Swift explained that his job was to manage environmental stressors on watersheds before they become a problem. The most common stressors he deals with include invasive species, erosion, encroachment, acidification, flow alteration, pathogens, nutrient loading, and thermal stress.

The presentations were followed by a question and answer session with both Dolan and Swift.

"There’s no one silver bullet for every problem," said Dolan in her presentation.

For example, erosion control often comes down to town governments. According to Dolan, 75 percent of town roads in Vermont need erosion control improvements. While towns recognize that protecting their water is important, the necessary improvements are often too costly. Similarly, farmers who own land which runs off into streams or brooks are willing to help reduce or redirect runoff, but the cost is just too high. In 2013, the Department of Environmental Conservation was unable to meet $4.5 million in demand for farmer assistance. For every one inspector that the department hires, there are 200 dairy farms. For every engineer, there are 250.

"We need to be smart about how we use our resources; we have limited dollars, limited staff, and limited time," said Dolan. Swift analyzes biological, chemical, and physical data from local watersheds to determine which water bodies are most in need of assistance. His department tries to coordinate regulations and policy on a statewide level, and then performs targeted implementation of those policies in specific basins.

Logging can also play a major role in polluting watersheds, according to Dolan.

"Forest management is a very important part of our economy, but we know logging can have an environmental impact," she said.

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, BKWA Executive Director Cynthia Browning, who is also the state representative for Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate, and Sunderland, expressed concern that while the Batten Kill Watershed was relatively clean, much of the state’s money was going to watersheds in the northern part of the state, which had not taken as good care of its water.

Swift praised the BKWA for being "such a sophisticated group, with so much energy," and credited their work for the Batten Kill watershed looking as good as it does, and assured her that southwestern Vermont was not being forgotten by the state, pointing out a recent project that removed a berm from a tributary of the Batten Kill.

"Clean water is vital to public health," said Swift, who noted that, fortunately for humans, "Our waters are naturally resilient."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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