$4M grant will help protect Lake Champlain waters

MIDDLEBURY — In early June, U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Vice-Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) secured $4 million in additional funding for use by the Lake Champlain Basin Program in its work to protect and restore Lake Champlain.
As the EPA-funded program works through how to best distribute funds to organizations around the state, local environmentalists and staffers are excited about the potential the funding will bring for new lake restoration projects around Addison County.
“We were concerned that there may not be additional funding for watershed projects coming from Washington, and Senator Leahy was able to get this line item in the budget, so it’s good news for us,” Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) Assistant Director and GIS planning manager Kevin Behm said. “It’s great news for the area and for the state.” The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) will receive funding in the amount of $8.399 million for the fiscal year 2018, up from $4.399 million in 2017, according to a press release from Leahy’s office. LCBP director Eric Howe said the funding will be made available to the organization on October 1, 2018.
While some of the funding will be directed toward projects already devised by the LCBP, such as a stormwater management and phosphorus control plan in St. Albans, much of the new money will be up for grabs by municipal and educational organizations around the state.
Howe said that as the kinks of the new budget are worked out, groups such as the ACRPC will be able to apply for grants for individual municipal projects pertaining to stormwater reduction, phosphorus runoff and other lake-restoration, protection and education initiatives.
“Watershed groups, municipalities and schools will have greater opportunity to access those funds and receive grant funding to do work on the ground in that area,” Howe said. “We will have something in the order of $650,000 to $700,000 available for implementation grants, which can be applied towards up to $125,000 [individual] projects. That, of course, means that that larger pot is more accessible to people, including folks in Addison County.”
According to Howe, LCBP funds can make their way to organizations such as the planning commission in two ways: first, an LCBP Technical Advisory Committee receives and reviews funding requests for larger projects. If merited, the Technical Advisory Committee recommends an award amount for the given project to the Lake Champlain Steering Committee, which then makes an award decision. For smaller projects, organizations apply for funding from the LCBP directly.
The ACRPC has relied upon funding from the Lake Champlain Basin Program in the past in conducting local watershed restoration projects. Two years ago, the planning commission used LCBP funds to conduct a stormwater mapping and prioritization initiative in Vergennes. And Behm said he is hopeful that the increase in available funds will allow for more projects such as a current stormwater “master planning” project in Bristol. Among other initiatives, Behm expects the funding to help with future ACRPC projects managing phosphorus runoff into the lake.
“We anticipate looking for some additional projects in the county that these funds would be able to help with,” Behm said.
Lake Champlain Committee executive director Lori Fisher said that the committee has relied upon LCBP funding in the past to conduct cyanobacteria monitoring programs around the state, many of which have taken place in Addison County. She hopes that the increased LCBP funding is good news for the future of these projects.
Howe pointed to education as one of the main areas that will benefit from the increase in funds: organizations can apply for funds not only for cleanup and restoration projects, but also for educational initiatives that will teach people about water health, history and best practices going forward to preserve the lake’s wildlife. Elizabeth Lee, education director at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, hopes to apply for LCBP funding to expand the museum’s educational programs.
Without community leaders such as Leahy and Howe, Lee said, lake restoration would be a real challenge.
“We are lucky to have incredible leadership that really cares about water conservation and cleanup,” Lee said. “From Patrick Leahy all the way down to people in the community like Eric Howe and those involved in stormwater planning and watershed runoff and other areas, we have a lot of incredible people working to make a difference.”
Of the newly acquired $4 million, $1.805 million will go to “Developed Lands Implementation Projects”  — basically, general cleanup projects around the lake. This figure includes $100,000 for the St. Albans plan as well as increased funding for the “competitive grants” that municipalities may apply for.
The other $2.195 million will go specifically to agricultural phosphorus reduction programs, meant to help reduce phosphorus runoff into the lake, according to the press release.
Overall, the extra $4 million was a huge win for a program whose funding was in doubt until Leahy stepped in. Howe said that until Leahy took the steps of introducing an appropriations bill calling for more funding, President Trump’s budget would have contained no money towards Lake Champlain restoration.
“We started out zero-funded, so we did pretty well at the end of the day,” he said. “Now we will be able to expand our implementation grant programs, our boots on the ground projects that work to reduce pollution to the lake, and we’re also expanding our education outreach programs to help support communities and individuals living in the watershed to help them understand the importance of protecting the lake.”

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