Benson and Pawlet – Governor Phil Scott has designated August 20-26 as Vermont Clean Water Week, celebrating and promoting efforts to clean up Lake Champlain and other lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. In honor of Clean Water Week, the Vermont Land Trust announced the successful conservation of three Rutland County farms.  The conservation of these farms not only keep them permanently available for agriculture, but also protects water quality in the Mettawee and Hubbardton Rivers and the southern end of Lake Champlain. Funding for these projects came in part from state and federal sources.

“Nearly 90% of all properties conserved with the Vermont Land Trust have frontage along, or lie within 20 feet of, a stream or river,” said Elise Annes of the Vermont Land Trust. “Conservation is an effective way to support farm businesses and at the same time help to create a viable solution for water quality improvement.”

In Benson, Paul and Kari Lussier run a dairy with help from their daughter Alison. They conserved their land when Alison was five, and she learned about the meaning of conservation later in her childhood. “I remember I started asking why the cows couldn’t go certain places, like in the river, and being told it was because the land is conserved,” says Alison.

The Lussiers farm organically and need a lot of pasture for their cows. Last year, Paul and Kari bought 150 more acres with excellent soil. They conserved their new land this year with funding from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board (VHCB) and a grant from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Vermont NRCS received the second largest RCPP award in the country of $16 million for water quality improvements, of which $3.9 million is allocated to conserving farms in the Lake Champlain Basin. “We encourage more farms to consider RCPP as an option for conserving environmentally critical agricultural lands,” said NRCS State Conservationist Vicky Drew.

The grants also helped offset some of the cost of purchasing the land for the Lussiers.

The Hubbardton River and one of its tributaries meet on the Lussiers’ new farmland; in total a half-mile of these watercourses cross the land. A 50-foot-wide buffer of forest and wetlands along the river and its tributary will filter and clean water as it makes its way to the southern end of Lake Champlain, while stabilizing the banks against erosion.

“We’re at a critical point for Vermont’s waters, with a need from all sectors to take strides to improve water quality for our environment, our wildlife, and the health of our people,” said Allison Compagna, RCPP Project Coordinator with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

At the southern end of Rutland County, the Cleveland family in Pawlet has also conserved and expanded their dairy farm over the years. Traci and Scott Cleveland first bought their farm in 1994. Now their sons Justin and Jonathan are grown and help with the business. The Clevelands conserved land with the Vermont Land Trust in 2007 and 2010, and this year they added another 100 acres to their farm and conserved it.

On this farm, 24 acres of wetlands feed tributaries of the Mettawee River, eventually flowing into Lake Champlain. Conservation ensures these valuable natural areas will be protected to maintain good water quality.

Also in Pawlet, Tim and Nancy Bryant conserved 173 acres of their former dairy farm. They are leasing the land to Rico and Jill Balzano, who needed barns and more land for their growing pork business. A third of a mile of Beaver Brook, a major tributary of the Mettawee River, crosses this farm. Conservation ensures that Beaver Brook will be protected from farm activities by a buffer of natural vegetation. Rico and Jill are also installing fence to keep their animals away from the water.

Funding for conserving the Cleveland farm and the Bryant farm came from VHCB, the Lake Champlain RCPP, and several foundations, including the Castanea Foundation and the Lookout Foundation. “VHCB funding to conserve these farms will help improve water quality in our state,” said Gus Seelig, Executive Director of VHCB. “Farmers that conserve their land follow agricultural land easement plans that promote the long-term viability of the farmland and other natural resources.” These funds also help reduce the cost of these farms when they are sold to farmers.

“Our conservation work is guided by staff with expertise in land use and ecology,” said Elise Annes of VLT. “Our goal is to have protections on every waterway we conserve in the future, and to retroactively add water quality protections to older conservation easements. By working in partnership with landowners, we can make a difference for clean water.”