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USDA to Invest $45 Million to Improve Water Quality in Lake Champlain

Federal funds will promote conservation practices in critical areas over the next five years

BURLINGTON, VERMONT, Aug. 28, 2014-– Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that up to $45 million will be provided to protect and improve soil and water quality in the Lake Champlain Basin in Vermont over the next five years.

"We are dedicated to protecting and improving this beautiful and unique natural resource," Vilsack said. "This historic USDA investment will help improve water quality while assisting producers in establishing and expanding sound conservation practices."

In recent years, Lake Champlain has been plagued by blue-green algae blooms that periodically become toxic. The algae blooms are the result of degraded water quality primarily due to phosphorous pollution. Phosphorus can affect water quality by enabling excessive aquatic plant and algae growth, which can contribute to fish die offs and other environmental impacts.

Funding will be provided for conservation activities on and around farming operations in the Missisquoi Bay, St. Albans Bay and South Lake Watersheds. Over the past ten years, USDA, through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), provided about $46 million to help Vermont farmers address water quality issues in the Lake Champlain Basin, making this new five-year pledge almost double the historic investment in the area.

Also, in order to accelerate on-the-ground work this year, NRCS provided an additional $1 million of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds to help producers plant cover crops on vulnerable soils and address conservation issues for livestock operations.

"With a team of dedicated conservation experts working one-on-one with proactive landowners, we will continue to focus on the future of this vital basin," Vilsack said.

EQIP offers technical and financial assistance to help producers identify and implement conservation practices and systems that address natural resource issues. In Vermont, the program helps off-set the costs of conservation practices critical for water quality, such as conservation tillage, fencing to exclude livestock from water bodies, riparian buffers, stream crossings, and more.

"Vermont's farmers and landowners are committed to protecting and improving our precious water resources" said NRCS State Conservationist Vicky Drew. "An unprecedented surge in EQIP applications in the past year, speaks to producers' strong interest as stewards of the basin."

Additional efforts spearheaded by NRCS in Vermont include edge of field monitoring to demonstrate the effectiveness of key conservation practices, and a cooperative conservation effort with key partners to provide coordinated assistance to Lake Champlain producers.

A number of factors contribute to algae blooms. Warm water, lack of agitation, rainfall and runoff from farms, lawns, and other sources can all contribute to the problem. Members of the scientific community believe that global warming is contributing to earlier blooms, not just in waterways in the United States but elsewhere. Conservation practices such as no-till reduce the amounts of sediment and nutrients in run-off, which is also influenced by the amount of precipitation and the time precipitation occurs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA are working together to assist producers in efforts to reduce runoff by planting cover crops, controlling drainage and constructing systems like anaerobic digesters to reduce the amount of untreated effluent entering ditches, streams, rivers and lakes.


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