How clean water funding is helping Vermont farms

SHELDON, Vt. (WCAX) Algae blooms and bacteria can close the beaches you use in the summer. Now, we're learning more about efforts to stop that from happening.

Thursday, state officials said Vermont is a great place to live but we need to invest in it. One investment we're making: about $20 million a year of general fund money and tens of millions from other state and federal sources for water quality improvement projects.

Our Cat Viglienzoni went to a farm in Franklin County to see what kind of work that money could pay for.

A small brook runs through Mark Parent's farm in Sheldon and he's taking steps to keep it phosphorus out of it.

"It's all about water quality," Parent said.

They've already kept their 240 cows out of the water and put a 60-foot buffer from their field to the road. This summer's project is to keep waste from leaking away.

"Leachate-- runoff from a bunker, is some nasty stuff. And right now it's kind of easing its way down to the road which goes to the brook. So, it's all going to be captured and sent the right way instead of where it's going now," Parent said.

But to pump the waste away, make the pit larger and line it costs big bucks-- $250,000. His farm couldn't pay for that on their own, so he needs federal and state money to help.

The Friends of Northern Lake Champlain can help him and other farms like his through the headaches of government paperwork.

"We know the projects, we go to them and we say this is where the projects need to be done. We can establish a really close relationship, one-on-one with the landowner," said Kent Henderson, the chair of the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain.

Henderson says he's encouraged by a new law, Act 76, that leaves more local control of how water quality money is spent because he says it will streamline the process of getting funds to farmers and others.

"We will have more direct access to the money," Henderson said.

At a ceremonial bill signing Thursday along the shore in St. Albans Town, Gov. Phil Scott praised the joint effort it took to create a long-term strategy to tackle water quality.

"We still have a lot of work to do," said Scott, R-Vermont.

The law invests $50 million-$60 million a year for the next 20 years into water quality projects and also creates clean water service providers in each major river basin to make sure projects the money pays for are meeting goals.

"We know we didn't get here overnight. And we're not going to solve these challenges overnight either," Scott said.

Back on the farm, Parent says after they complete their big runoff project this summer, they'll be all caught up. He says it's extra work that's worth it to keep Lake Champlain cleaner.

"In the end, it's better for us, too," he said.

Many of the details of Act 76-- including how they'll form those clean water service providers-- are still being worked out.

The Agency of Natural Resources secretary did say she hopes to have those providers in place for Lake Champlain in a bit over a year, with other areas of the state following shortly after.