Vermont Agricultural Partnership Celebrates National Water Quality Month in August

Partnership applauds efforts of farmers to protect and improve water quality

 

August 24, 2021 National Water Quality Month is recognized annually in August, and this year, the Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership (VAWQP) applauds the stewardship efforts of Vermont’s farmers during the observance month.

As highlighted in the 2020 Clean Water Performance Report, Vermont farmers are responsible for the largest quantifiable reduction of phosphorus entering Lake Champlain in the past 5 years. Estimated total phosphorus load reductions have nearly tripled from 2016 to 2020, with over 97% of quantifiable reductions associated with agricultural projects.

VAWQP celebrates this accomplishment and continues to work with Vermont farmers to protect and improve water quality in Lake Champlain. The 2020 VAWQP annual report recognized a high level of commitment from Vermont farmers who embraced land stewardship and conservation practices, but also the need for continued and sustained improvements.

Last year, farmers established nearly 27,000 acres of cover crops and over 14,000 acres of conservation tillage to reduce erosion, improve soil health, and protect water quality. Additionally, 8 miles (35 acres) of forested riparian buffers were implemented in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These efforts have assisted the state in achieving 13% of the agricultural reduction requirements, decreasing phosphorus inputs by nearly 16 metric tons.

VAWQP is committed to supporting all farmers’ efforts by ensuring they are aware of and have access to programs and services to build soil health and reduce impacts to water quality.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Champlain must be reduced by 34% overall and Vermont farms play a significant role in helping the state to meet these targets. The members of the VAWQP are at the forefront of efforts to assist farms and the agriculture sector in meeting targets and reducing in-lake phosphorus concentrations.

“We continue to be amazed at the commitment and willingness of Vermont farms to learn and use new field management techniques and invest in farm infrastructure improvements to reduce water quality impacts from their operations,” explained Alli Lewis, VAWQP Coordinator. “Many conservation projects provide benefits for the farms too, such as improving soil health and reducing soil loss. We have come a long way, but there is still work to do.”

The Lake Champlain Basin Program’s State of the Lake and Ecosystem Indicators Report, issued in June, emphasized that while most parts of Lake Champlain have good water quality, the Lake still needs improvement to meet the standards of the federal Clean Water Act for all uses.

Eric Howe, Director of the Lake Champlain Basin Programs, noted that a changing climate is making the effort to address environmental and water quality issues in the Lake Champlain Basin more challenging.  “Air temperatures are increasing, and Lake Champlain is freezing over less often than in the past. Climate change can affect everything from the frequency of cyanobacteria blooms to the quality of fish habitat,” The new State of the Lake reported that due to warming winter temperatures, Lake Champlain freezes about once every four years; modeling suggests that by 2050, the Lake may freeze fully just once per decade.

Recognizing that no single organization can address agricultural water quality issues alone, VAWQP is structured to foster and cultivate coordination and engagement from each organization’s leadership, management and staff.  The Partnership can help farmers by leveraging resources, including financial assistance, technical expertise, and coordinate and implement conservation practices for water quality. This in turn can help farmers improve crop yields and implement climate-smart farming practices which help address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation.

“Vermont’s farmers are dedicated to feeding us in a sustainable way that respects the environment and our communities,” Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said.  “Water quality is top of mind for them and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.  We applaud their efforts to reduce phosphorus and stand ready to assist farmers with that effort for our future generations.”

The VAWQP encourages farmers who haven’t previously worked with a federal, state, or local conservation entity to reach out and explore the options available to them, including a wide variety of technical assistance to create a customized conservation plan for their operation. Learn more at www.vtagcleanwater.org.

The Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership (VAWQP) is dedicated to collaborating with and supporting farmers in their efforts to improve water quality and seeks to accelerate improved water quality by collaborating to provide outreach, education, technical and financial assistance directly to farmers with respect for each partner’s vision, role and capacity.