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Vermont and USDA officials announce $16 million in federal funds for Lake Champlain cleanup

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — Vermont has been awarded a $16 million federal grant to help farmers pay for conservation projects designed to keep runoff and other pollution from reaching Lake Champlain, federal and state officials announced Wednesday.

An additional $710,000 will be used for conservation planning, the officials said during a news conference at the Statehouse in Montpelier. While most of the money is destined for Vermont, some will be used for projects in New York.

The $16 million is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Coupled with matching funds from private groups and another Lake Champlain cleanup grant that was announced last year, more than $80 million will become available to help clean up the lake, officials said.

"We have an opportunity to turn back the decay, the pollution that is taking our greatest resource from us," Gov. Peter Shumlin said at the news conference.

The funding is part of more than $370 million in federal spending on about 110 projects nationwide as part of a new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Shumlin made cleaning up Lake Champlain a priority in his inaugural address last week.

Runoff from farms, wastewater treatment plants and developed properties are among the primary sources of phosphorus, which is blamed for toxic algae blooms in the lake.

The 125-mile-long lake, the border between northwestern Vermont and New York state that extends into Quebec, has seen some of its shallower parts choked with algae blooms blamed on excess phosphorus that flows into the lake, largely due to human activities along its shores and tributaries.

Farmers will be eligible for grants of up to $450,000 over five years. Farmers can begin applying for the grants later this year.

The money from the grants announced Wednesday will be used to help farmers with conservation practices such as planting cover crops, protecting stream and river banks, grazing practices and other projects designed to keep pollutants from farm fields from reaching the waterways and eventually the lake, said Vicki Drew, the state conservationist for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service in the state.

The priority areas for using the money are the Missisquoi and Lamoille river watersheds as well as southern Lake Champlain, Drew said.

The project announced Wednesday will also use modeling to target conservation practices and an extensive monitoring network to assess if the practices are effective.

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