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Vilsack Announces Water Quality Funding For Lake Champlain

Rep. Welch and Sen. Leahy, left and right
WAMC/Pat Bradley

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was at the Leahy-ECHO Center for Lake Champlain in Vermont this morning to announce accelerated funding to improve the lake’s water quality.

Secretary Vilsack was invited to Vermont by Senator Patrick Leahy, who is the Senate President Pro Tem and an advocate of the lake. Standing on a deck overlooking Lake Champlain, Vilsack noted that Lake Champlain is the sixth-largest freshwater body in the country and it needs help.  “There’s no question that over a period of decades, not just agriculture but landscape and sewage treatments and so forth, have impacted and affected the health of this great lake. And we have got to do a better job - we at USDA, we in Vermont and across the country  - have to do a better job investing in this extraordinary piece of Mother Nature.”

Over the past 10 years about $46 million has been invested in soil and water quality programs for the lake basin through the National Resources Conservation Service. Vilsack says he has seen pictures and water samples that strongly indicate that the work must be accelerated.  “Where we spent $46 million and invested $46 million over the last ten years, we’re going to cut that timeline in half. We’re committing today to making available $46 million that will be invested in the lake over the next five years by USDA. Now that’s in addition to everything else that the state’s going to put in and that the private sector will put in. It also creates the opportunity for additional resources under the Farm Bill.  So we’re going to spend as much money in the next five years as we spent in the last ten years and we’re going to make sure we partner with folks who care deeply about this lake.”

An additional million dollars is being made available to focus on cover crops. Secretary Vilsack called it a down payment on the accelerated funding commitment.  “One of the strategies for dealing and improving the quality of this water is making sure that we reduce soil erosion. One of the most effective ways to do that is expanded cover crop activity. So we’re going to provide resources to allow producers around the state of Vermont to consider cover crops as a strategy in addition to buffers and in addition to some of the other steps that have already been taken.”

Vermont Congressman Democrat Peter Welch says everyone must work toward best practices to help improve the lake.  “In order for us to be successful in making this lake as clean as everyone wants it to be we have to have the partnership from USDA.  Secretary Vilsack is here with some resources that are going to make that job more possible for us.  But it also takes, obviously, the partnership of our producers, of our local municipal officials so that we have the right water treatment systems.  It takes all of us who fertilize our lawns. It’s a combination of money and resources that you need.  And Secretary Vilsack is here doubling down. But it’s also what we do every day and how we do it.”

Senator Leahy, also a Democrat, says the funding is crucial as there are no silver bullets to solve problems like phosphorus runoff, invasive species and blue green algae.  “We have to be constantly vigilant. It’s a treasure for us. It’s a treasure for New York State. It’s a treasure for Canada. It’s a treasure for the whole country.”  Vilsack added: “To put this in a different context, it’s about economic opportunity. The way you build an economy is you take your natural resource base and you take better advantage of it.  So this is a conservation project for sure, but it’s also about economic opportunity.”

The funding is available through the 2014 Farm Bill’s conservation program provisions.

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