News Releases

January 26, 2015

Vermont's Clean Water Initiative Moves Forward

State Leaders Describe the Plan to Enhance Stewardship and Accountability

State Leaders convened in St. Albans City Hall today to outline the new plan for addressing agricultural runoff in the Lake Champlain basin. New resources, deeper partnerships across state government, and new accountability tools have been established to improve water quality across Vermont.

"In the State of the State, the Governor emphasized the state-wide commitment we will all engage in to clean up Lake Champlain. As you know, we have a particular challenge in meeting that goal here in Franklin County. Today, we are here to tell you more about the Clean Water Initiative and the collaborative approach we will take to meet this commitment," said David Mears, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Commissioner Mears, Ag Secretary Chuck Ross, and Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell outlined The Statewide Plan to Enhance Stewardship and Accountability, a 4-pronged approach to address agriculture-related water quality issues.

Stewardship & Accountability

1) Resources for Stewardship Practices: Fueled with new resources, State partners will expand their work with farmers to provide technical assistance and implement additional stewardship practices, proven to improve water quality. These practices include:

* Cover crops

* Buffers

* Contour Tillage

* No Till

* Livestock Exclusion

* Barnyard Repair

* Grass Waterways

* Crop Rotation

The state has worked diligently to identify and secure these resources. The USDA has committed $45M as base program funding, an additional $16.8M for two Regional Conservation Partnership Program projects, and $3M of Lake Champlain Basin Program funding. The Administration has also proposed a Clean Water Fund that is estimated to raise $5M to help levy additional resources and implement water quality improvements.

2) Increased Capacity: Staff from the Agency of Agriculture and the Agency of Natural resources are being re-deployed to address the priority regions. Additional staff will also be hired. This will add capacity for:

* Outreach and Education

* Technical Assistance

* Additional Inspections

* Investigations

* Data Tracking

3) Enhanced Partnerships: State partners, Federal partners, NGOs, farmers, and business owners are collaborating in new ways to increase efficiency and improve results. For instance:

* Training new partners to assist in educating farmers at the farmstead about conservation practices and programs

* Creating watershed specific plans that incorporate these partnerships for increased on-the-ground efficiency

* Meeting regularly with these groups at the local level to keep the plans moving

* Coordinating the compliance investigations and technical assistance to identify the issues and connect the farmers to partners that can help them plan solutions

4) Accountability Tools: The Agency of Agriculture, Agency of Natural Resources and the Attorney General have established enhanced, coordinated enforcement for agriculture water quality; the State is also proposing new ways to hold offenders accountable. For instance:

* Current Use penalties

* New Enforcement Authorities

-- Emergency Order Authority

-- Civil Penalties

-- Authority to Limit Livestock

"We have honed our focus to enhance the statewide culture of stewardship and accountability," said Chuck Ross, Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture. "Stewardship means greater partnership across state government, more technical assistance and new, unprecedented resources for farmers to implement conservation practices. Accountability means we have more tools to bring those who fly in the face of the law into compliance."

"The majority of farmers are working hard to protect our natural resources," said Secretary Ross. "Now there are more resources available to assist them in their efforts."

"This initiative leverages one of the state's most vital resources -- Vermont farmers who have demonstrated a commitment to stewarding the land to protect clean water. The initiative offers support for farmers to take actions that will conserve soil and protect water, and ensures that all farmers are held to the same standard," said Commissioner Mears.

"My office is working closely with the Agency of Agriculture and the Agency of Natural Resources and is committed to bringing enforcement actions when necessary to address violations of Vermont's agricultural water quality laws, and especially here in Franklin County," said Attorney General Sorrell. "We understand that most Vermont farmers are trying to run sustainable farms that operate within the law and live up to the expectations of Vermonters, but when farms fail to do so, we are ready to step in."

State leaders are urging farmers to contact their local USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to discuss how they can become eligible for these unprecedented new financial resources to implement conservation practices.

Contact: Alison Kosakowski, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets; AlisonKosakowski@state.vt.us; 802-272-4547

Susan Warner, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources; Susan.Warner@state.vt.us; 802-595-2470

Mary-Kay Swanson, Office of the Vermont Attorney General; Marykay.swanson@state.vt.us; 802-828-3171

Source: Agency of Natural Resources
Last Updated at: January 26, 2015 14:54:53