A Northeast Kingdom Focus on Water Quality

The Lake Memphremagog Long-Term Water Quality Partnership

Lidback, like put the lid back on the cookie jar,” explains Adam Lidback, a dairy farmer, regarding how to spell his last name.

Sarah Damsell, Orleans County Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCD) Manager since 2015, makes note as she helps Lidback fill out information that will become part of the Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) for his farm, The Farm at Wheeler Mountain – located in Westmore, Vermont.


(Sarah Damsell and Adam Lidback review the farm’s NMP.) 

Damsell began work with the Vermont Conservation Districts in 2009, and has taken a large role in several crucial projects focused on improving water quality in both the Lake Memphremagog and Tomifobia watersheds in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

Helping farmers with technical assistance, amongst other responsibilities, is made possible for Damsell in part through Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS).

The Memphremagog Long-Term Water Quality Partnership is one of three State RCPP Projects. The Project focuses on working with farmers to compile and utilize their NMPs, install NRCS approved practices on farms that will decrease nutrient loading to waters of the State through implementation of smaller Best Management Practices in production areas, and implementation of field and pasture practices to address water quality, soil erosion, and soil quality decline.

The RCPP funding was granted to the Orleans County NRCD in 2015, and includes $314,000 for installation of approximately 80 on-farm projects over a five-year period of time and $360,000 for technical assistance, totaling $674,000 available for water quality improvements. More than $140,000, or 21%, of the technical assistance funds are allocated to 16 farmers developing NMPs for their farms through a nutrient management planning course.

Lidback, originally from Northwood, New Hampshire took over his uncle’s farm in 2008 with a purchase of ten milk cows and ten heifers. Lidback studied at the University of New Hampshire, where he completed his degree in Dairy Animal Science. He is one of nine farmers who Damsell has worked with this year on the process of getting signed up for the nutrient management planning course. NMPs are required for certified Small, Medium, and Large Farming Operations in the state, and can be very complex to compile. Farmers that complete this course, or that are located in high priority watersheds, are given preference for various projects on their farmsteads when RCPP funding is distributed.

Success of RCPP implementation will be based on results of water samples collected by Damsell and the Orleans County NRCD, the number of NMPs that are completed, the number of field and pasture practices installed on farms, the amount of phosphorus reduction recorded for each practice, the amount of field acreage improved, as well as some assessment of social measures – such as creation of a continuous farmer work- group or changes in farmer behavior.

Damsell’s efforts, combined with other local and state input, have been instrumental to even further increase the results of ongoing efforts by farmers to improve water quality within the state. Funding from the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, through the Clean Water Fund, has also been awarded to the Orleans County NRCD to host local field days and create an online Required Agriculture Practices Quiz for farmers to complete, which will count towards required Water Quality Training Credits.

Providing support to farmers and promoting their positive efforts in the community are the largest and most important aspects of Damsell’s job; with those drivers, there is endless opportunity for continued improvement of water quality in Lake Memphremagog and other surrounding water- bodies.

To contact Sarah Damsell and the Orleans County NRCD, please call: 802-334-6090 x7008.