VNRC Wins for Water in the Legislature

VNRC Wins for Water in the Legislature

April 28, 2006

Protecting Vermont’s drinking water — the fresh, cold water that exists in the aquifers beneath our feet — is one of VNRC’s highest priorities. Today the Legislature delivered a hard won victory for Vermonters by passing legislation designed to safeguard this invaluable resource from depletion and degradation.

The final bill represents over two years of planning, coordination, and hard work by VNRC’s legislative team who chaperoned the drinking water protection bill through the legislative process and then negotiated the final language.

While VNRC served as the catalyst for this victory, we could not have done it without the leadership of a bipartisan group of legislators. This includes Chair Steve Adams and Vice Chair David Deen of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee and Chair Ginny Lyons of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. VNRC also thanks the grassroots citizen action and the work of groups like Water 1st! and Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

What does the bill do? It requires water users withdrawing over 50,000 gallons a day (the limit used by neighboring New Hampshire for its groundwater withdrawal permit program) to secure an interim groundwater permit. The permit is based on the criteria in existing state rules for developing water supply sources and an added requirement that applicants map groundwater within the vicinity of the proposed withdrawal. The interim program will safeguard Vermont against large groundwater withdrawals until a long-term, comprehensive program to protect this irreplaceable resource can be put in place.

To ensure that a long term groundwater strategy is adopted in Vermont, the bill creates a legislative task force charged with recommending a groundwater regulation and protection program for Vermont. The task force will look closely at several key water protection tools communities need to safeguard their drinking water supplies, including:

1. Creating comprehensive maps of the state’s groundwater resources and a schedule for completing groundwater mapping;

2. Funding for groundwater mapping;

3. Creating a statewide program for addressing groundwater withdrawals

4. Adopting the Public Trust Doctrine to declare that surface water and groundwater are held and managed in the public trust;

The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk, who is expected to sign it into law. Then the hard work will begin. Public involvement will be essential to ensure that the task force crafts the strong regulatory protections necessary to safeguard our water resources and that the Legislature adopts those recommendations. VNRC will be at the forefront of this effort and will count on the support of our members and activists to help develop a program that will protect Vermont’s groundwater for generations to come.