State Awards $11 Million to Local Nonprofits Working to Restore Water Quality

 

January 21, 2020 

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) awarded nearly $11 million in water infrastructure financing to fund conservation and restoration projects that will protect and restore Vermont’s water quality. These projects will reduce water pollution and protect water quality by conserving key forests, lakes, rivers, and wetlands throughout the state.

DEC recently redesigned its water infrastructure financing program to allow nonprofits to receive funding for natural resource projects that improve water quality. Nonprofits can pursue funding for land or easement acquisitions, headwaters restoration, and tree plantings. The program also offers payment-free financing for the first four years.

“Traditionally, this money could only be used to fund industrial wastewater and stormwater treatment plant projects. But with the new changes, we can support a much more diverse portfolio of water infrastructure projects such as green stormwater infrastructure, combined sewer overflow needs, and drinking water improvements. This additional flexibility provides a greater return on our investment. We’re now able to protect water further upstream, preventing polluted water from flowing into Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River,” said Terisa Thomas, DEC’s Water Infrastructure Finance Director.

The Trust for Public Land and the Vermont Land Trust recently completed two DEC-financed clean water projects. Both projects include properties that are part of the Forest Legacy Program administered by the state’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. These projects illustrate how this funding can be used to preserve water quality further upstream. Together, they received $11 million to help permanently protect 10,971 acres of forestland.

The Vermont Land Trust received money for the conservation of 6,641 acres in the Worcester Woods, a property located on both sides of Route 12 in Worcester and Elmore. Through the Vermont Land Trust’s efforts and a conservation easement held by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, the project will protect a critical wildlife corridor, high priority forestland, multiple wetlands, and the headwater streams that flow into the North Branch of the Winooski. By conserving 92 acres of wetlands, 12 acres of ponds, and 74 miles of undeveloped river frontage in the Winooski and Lamoille River Basins, the flood resilience and water quality benefits of the project are substantial, as are the recreational and scenic attributes.

“Having access to affordable financing is a game-changer for conservation groups like ours,” said Tracy Zschau, Vice President for Conservation at Vermont Land Trust. “Affordable financing means we will be better able to save other land like Worcester Woods—land that is important to water quality because it has the headwaters of the North Branch of the Winooski River.”

The Trust for Public Land received financing for the conservation of two properties: a 2,562-acre inholding in Green Mountain National Forest in Chittenden, Killington and Mendon, known as Rolston Rest, and a 1,768-acre property in Middlesex and Worcester, known as the Hunger Mountain Headwaters project.

The Rolston Rest property contains nearly 10 miles of headwater streams and 288 acres of ponds, riparian areas and wetlands. More than 30 percent of the streams flow into the Connecticut River Basin. The remainder flow into Lake Champlain, a drinking water source for residents of Vermont, New York and Quebec. Protecting this core forest and aquatic features as an addition to Green Mountain National Forest means better water quality for the 2.9 million residents living in these two basins.

“This innovative use of Clean Water State Revolving Funds will allow conservation groups to step in quickly to protect strategic lands important for water quality and for all Vermonters,” noted Kate Wanner, Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land. “Protecting our natural infrastructure such as wetlands, floodplain forests and river corridors keeps our water clean at a fraction of the cost of grey infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plants. We applaud the DEC and Vermont legislature for taking this step.”   

The Hunger Mountain Headwaters property in Middlesex and Worcester is part of a Forest Legacy Program project and will be added to C.C. Putnam State Forest in the spring of 2020 by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. This property was part of the largest unprotected and unfragmented forest in the Worcester Range, spanning 6 towns. It has 17 acres of pristine wetlands, vernal pools, and traverses an 11-acre wetland complex. The property also contains 8 miles of other headwater streams with healthy native brook trout that flow into the North Branch of the Winooski River. Permanent protection of the property prevents the forest from being converted into roads, driveways and houses. The state’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation will manage the property to limit erosion and runoff into the Winooski River, as well as to protect wildlife habitat and scenic resources, promote sustainable forest management and provide recreation opportunities across the property and on the Hunger Mountain Trail.

To learn more about DEC’s water infrastructure financing program, or to apply for funding, visit https://dec.vermont.gov/water-investment/water-financing/cwsrf/wispr