Sampling Vermont’s Wetlands for the National Wetlands Condition Assessment

The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA) is a Federal-State partnership to assess the quality of the nation’s wetlands, and to expand the capacity of State programs to monitor these valued water resources.  It is part of a larger National Aquatic Resource Survey Initiative sponsored by EPA, in which Vermont participates annually.  These surveys examine the chemical, physical and biological integrity of wetlands, lakes, rivers and streams, and coastal estuaries, by measuring commonly used and scientifically-robust indicators.  The NWCA has been going strong throughout the country since mid-May of this year.  So far, throughout the United States, 569 wetlands have been sampled by a total of 48 crews.

The Watershed Management Division is fully partnering with the EPA in NWCA, and is using the opportunity to create a common water quality sampling program between the Division’s Wetlands and Monitoring, Assessment, and Planning Programs. Sampling began in Mid-June, and so far eight wetlands have been completely sampled, while three sites remain.  The project involves a detailed recording of all vegetation present within 5 individual sampling plots, a thorough analysis of the buffer surrounding the assessment area, water quality testing, recording of all possible hydrologic indicators and stressors, and a thorough analysis of a meter-deep soil pit.  A few sites have required the crew to pack out over 100 lbs. of soil samples from the pit.  See photos below showing the Division’s scientists at work.

Watershed Management Division scientists getting deep into their work on the NWCA.

Watershed Management Division scientists getting deep into their work on the NWCA.

The wetland sites have ranged widely, and crews have visited a beautiful silver maple-sensitive fern floodplain forest in Charleston, a floating peat mat covered with alder shrubs in the South Bay of Lake Memphremagog, a pristine, reference condition forested wetland in the mountains of the Green Mountain National Forest, and a trampled, compacted pasture filled with invasive plants in Bennington, among others.

More information is available from EPA concerning the sampling protocol and results from the 2011 survey click the link below.