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There are 7,100 miles of rivers and streams in the State of Vermont. Of these total state waters 195 waters or segments of waters are impaired, 115 waters or segments of waters are stressed, and at least 56 waters in the State are altered due to aquatic nuisance species. These facts are listed in Vermont’s new Clean Water Act 64, passed in 2015, which outlines standards to prevent degradation of these waters to preserve the uses, benefits, and values of these vital assets. Vermonters area making progress by employing water quality practices and utilizing technical and financial resources to engage in meaningful ways. This spring in Orleans County alone 5 landowners planted 15,165 trees and shrubs on 50 acres in average 50ft wide riparian areas adjacent to streams and rivers.

Vermont rivers have been altered from their natural functions over the past many generations to accommodate human imposed changes to the river’s processes. Activities such as deforestation, snagging, ditching, dams, diversions, gravel removal and encroachment from roads and urbanization. These alterations led to a changes in the amount and rate of water causing dramatic increases in the water volume, velocity and sediment runoff which changes the river system and the natural stages of the rivers channel evolution.  These historic land use impacts and today’s land use impacts are in large part causing the above-mentioned troubling statistics  related to Vermont waters. 

Grounded in this historical perspective and on the proven environmental benefits, the Orleans County Natural Resources Conservation District (OCNRCD) and many other local, state and federal partners, such as the Northwoods Stewardship Center and the Missisquoi Basin Association, working in the Orleans County watersheds have grant funds to support landowners from the headwaters to the broad valleys in the Memphremagog Basin and Missisquoi River watersheds. 

Establishing and monitoring successful riparian buffer plantings utilizes landowner involvement, volunteers, local contractors and a proactive, science-based method for site prioritization and restoration. Natural vegetated buffers of shrubs, trees, and herbaceous plants are relatively easily developed, planted and maintained at a reasonable cost. Utilizing stream geomorphic assessments and local site conditions like soil types; and existing vegetative natural community we all worked together with landowners and operators to design and install many buffer projects this spring. 

Misty Koloski, a dairy farmer in Newport Center, is one of the landowners who revegetated areas this spring. She said “Our experience with this project was certainly positive and the outcome great. Working with the Orleans County NRCD Director and the tree planting contractor’s was seamless. I was very pleased with the professionalism and methodology including selecting the species for the project. We appreciate that there were elderberry trees included for the birds!  With the assistance provided planting a riparian buffer and putting up fence to get the heifers out of the stream our family organic dairy is positioned to improve the watershed and the small game habitat around our farm.” This project was funded by the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Over time, these buffer projects will benefit the water quality by filtering overland flow waters, improving aquatic habitat to moderate water temperature and providing structure for fish, protecting riverbanks to provide stability and restore equilibrium to the rivers and increase scenic functions. All of these benefits have been proven critical to the long-term health of waterbodies especially on the 81 waters or segments of water in the state that are impaired and require an EPA imposed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan, which includes Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog. Through the Vermont Clean Water Act, programs like the Vermont Conservation Districts Trees for Streams program and the commitment of Vermont citizens, State waters can be protected and improved to prevent further degradation. 

The OCNRCD is organized as a local non-profit that coordinates with landowners, municipalities, local organizations, and state and federal agencies in the County’s 19 towns to encourage and support the integrity of land use practices and ensure environmental quality. For additional questions about the Conservation Districts ‘Trees for Steams’ program or any of the other available restoration programs, please contact Sarah Damsell at 802-334-6090 ext. 7008 or email