The Lamoille Watershed as a Model for Storm Water Nutrient Runoff from Dairy Farms in Vermont

The following was my environmental studies senior thesis.

ABSTRACT

            Storm water runoff from agricultural areas carries excess nutrients with it, which leads to dead zones in nearby lakes. Lake Champlain is the sixth largest lake in the United States, and is facing issues related to excess nutrients from farms. Research related to farms has focused on runoff related to manure spread on fields. One area not previously addressed is manure management on farms. There are two main types of manure pit styles on dairy farms; enclosed and, unenclosed. Three farms of each of these types were analyzed for nutrient runoff during storm events. Four key factors linked to nutrient runoff were analyzed through field sampling; phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and ammonium. The study took place in the Lamoille River Watershed in Vermont which feeds into Lake Champlain. Baseline data was collected before storms and samples were also collected after storms. The goal of this study was to identify a manure pit management style that minimizes nutrient runoff. While the data indicated that a manure pit that lacked a confining wall impacted phosphorus, ammonium, and nitrate, there was no significant impact on dissolved oxygen from such pits. However, manure pits had relativity low impact on the streams overall; other more important factors may be soil erosion, manure spreading, and septic tanks.

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Common snapping turtle

The United States has the most turtle species out of any country in the world (51 species). Common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are one of the most easily identified of these 51 species. In 5th grade, our class pet was even a snapping turtle baby that someone had found in a parking lot. They have a wide range of areas that they live in North America; basically all of the U.S. minus the west coast and Texas. Sadly there is also a wide range of misconceptions to go along with their wide geographic range. The biggest misconception is that they are aggressive and should be killed if seen. Others have negative views of the turtles because they kill game fish, which is true but have a minimal impact on populations. Generally, they are only aggressive on land as it is hard for them to walk on land. They tend to only be found on land during the breeding season when females go in search of sandy patches in which to lay their eggs. These sandy patches are often found along roads. If you see a snapping turtle in the road if you decided to move you should know they have a long reach with their neck and their claws are also very sharp. Typically I just stand in the road with the turtle until it safety crosses. If the turtle is a baby you can carefully pick it up and place it near a waterbody where it can hide from predators.

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Young Lauren carrying a baby common snapping turtle to a safe location. Hyde Park, Vermont.

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Lupines and butterflies; a failed project

The summer after my 1st year of college I did a somewhat misguided ecology project related to the Karner Blue Butterfly (Plebejus melissa samuelis). The butterfly larvae only feed on wild lupines (Lupinus perennis). As lupines are early successional plants, as the Northeast transitions back into the forested lands it was before European colonization, the lupine populations are also shrinking. With those populations, the butterflies are dying out. When the butterfly was listed in 1992, 99% percent of its population was already gone. It used to be found from Minnesota to Maine, which included my home state of Vermont. Now the butterfly can only be found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, and Ohio, although reintroductions have occurred in 3 other locations. I did not do as much research about the butterfly as I should have in the planning stage of my project but we will get to that later and hopefully, this can serve as a lesson to you as well in planning future projects.

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Blue lupines (Lupinus perennis) are now endangered in the state of Vermont according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They have a taproot that helps to stabilize areas to prevent erosion. Since they serve as host plants and were easy to find the seeds for I bought 16,000 seeds on Amazon. I took the seeds and made them into what are called seed bombs. Seed bombs were created during the Guerrilla gardening movement, people would use them to plant flowers in empty lots that they could not otherwise access. It is basically a ball of mud, seeds, and fertilizer that you are able to throw. Here is more information on seed bombs. It is important to keep in mind what plants are native and which plants are not. I used two seeds per seed bombs because cross-pollinating lupines plants produce more seeds than those who self-pollinate. The fertilizer used was made from natural plant products, because it doesn’t raise nitrogen levels if washed in a waterway.

 

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Some of my many seed bombs

 

The Karner Blue butterfly is only an inch wide and has very limited dispersal, an average of 1000 feet. IF I had done more research I would have figured out that planting lupines where the butterfly does not exist, literally serves no benefit to it. At the time since Vermont is in the historical range, I thought that one of the butterflies would make its way to my lupines. This project lacked practicality and enough background research. I also had no taken outbreeding depression into account when I bought random seeds on Amazon. Outbreeding depression occurs when you breed two populations that wouldn’t have breed together in the past together. The result is lower genetic diversity in the species.