BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has awarded a grant to the Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District to protect water quality and help assess Basin 11 and its sub-watersheds.
District Manager Jolene Hamilton said much of the $94,000 grant will cover the costs of hiring a consultant to assess the watershed of the William River, identify areas of concern and survey the watershed's physical characteristics. She said the research could also produce a map of fluvial erosion hazard areas, or spots along a river it is reasonable to assume will have some erosion due to high-water events like Tropical Storm Irene.
Basin 11 is located in the southeastern corner of Vermont and drains the eastern slopes of the Green Mountains, encompassing the three watersheds of the West, Saxtons and Williams rivers. The Williams River, like much of southern Vermont, was severely affected by Irene, though it is the only one in the three sub-watersheds of Basin 11 that has not been completely assessed. Hamilton said stream geomorphic assessments (SGAs) come in two phases -- the first of which is mostly a mapping exercise, while the second is "where you get your hands dirty" by collecting physical data. Marie Caduto, a watershed coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said an entire SGA has been conducted on the Saxtons River, while the Williams and West rivers have only been through Phase 1.
The WCNRCD conducted a Phase 1 SGA on 106 miles on the Williams River that also included 14 tributary watersheds and two sub-tributary watersheds. This grant will provide the funds to conduct a Phase 2 SGA on approximately 44 reaches on the Williams River, which includes the middle branch, south branch and the Andover branch. The assessment work will start in June and is expected to be completed by July 2016.
Results will be presented at public meetings following completion. Hamilton said Fitzgerald Environmental Associates LLC, out of Colchester, will be the consultant. She said the WCNRCD found out about the grant money in December 2013 but waited until the completion of Phase 1 before announcing.
John Bennett, a senior planner at Windham Regional Commission, told the Reformer the grant-funded assessment will "enable our towns to have better information about conditions of the streams that are being assessed in their towns." He said the consultant's work will entail assessing the watershed of the Williams River and then surveying its slope, width, bends and soil. This, he said, will give towns an understanding of how to improve and protect its water quality and stream corridors.
He said the WRC shares some portions of the Williams River with the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission. Caduto said the grant was the result of a basin plan she conducted over the course of two years. She said the plan examined the water quality and habitat conditions within the river systems and laid out the projects or actions needed to improve those conditions. She told the Reformer she will be a part of a steering committee (that she believes will also consist of members of the WCNRCD, the WRC and river scientists) that will guide the hired consultant through the process.
"What comes out of this is we get a huge amount of physical data on the river. That includes erosion and the process the river is going through to naturalize its banks and its system -- and from that data we develop a number of projects we can implement on the ground to fix any issues that we find," she said.
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