Our Work

Water Activist and Author Maude Barlow Packs the House, Offering Sobering, but Also Hopeful, Messages on Water

Water activist Maude Barlow, speaking in Burlington, recently warned more than 200 Vermonters about the coming global water crisis – and urged them to become active. She painted a worrisome picture of shortages of clean, fresh water for the world’s population, of human suffering, of water refugees and water privatization. She also celebrated the recent U.N. declaration that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right. Read more below and see pictures from the event, which was sponsored by VNRC, the Peace and Justice Center, and the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center.


Most Vermonters don’t think much about the water that flows from our taps — groundwater, primarily — until there’s a problem. Like contaminated water. Or, no water at all.
According to water expert, advocate, author and most recently United Nations Special Advisor on Water, Maude Barlow, that’s dangerous.
The idea that the free flow of this seemingly inexhaustible resource might be an issue in Vermont — that Vermonters’ wells could run dry — had not crossed many people’s minds. Until recently that is.
Several years ago Ms. Barlow’s acclaimed book, Blue Gold, put the critical issue of water security smack in the forefront of national and international conversations about this life-sustaining resource.  Ms. Barlow – and her book – also put the issue of water scarcity, water quality and water depletion in the center of policy and practical discussions here in Vermont too. A few years back, looking a bit more closely, it became abundantly clear to many that while Vermont had established programs to address groundwater water quality, it fell troublingly short in safeguarding groundwater quantity.
Thankfully, culminating in 2008, Vermonters rose to meet this important charge. After a successful multi-year, broad-based effort, the state is now on more solid footing to protect groundwater through two key provisions:
1)Creating a regulatory program designed to prevent over consumption and depletion of groundwater.
2)Declaring groundwater a “public trust” resource.
These measures are essential as more than two-thirds of Vermonters rely on groundwater for drinking water; farmers rely on groundwater for irrigation and for drinking water for farm animals; businesses rely on groundwater for their operations; and water bodies like Lake Champlain and the Lake’s tributaries are fed and replenished by groundwater.
Such measures could help avoid scenarios like those that played out powerfully in the Southeast and Southwest over the last several years, when there was too little water to go around.
These provisions are also vital for playing a role in unexpected, and significant, issues like the recent tritium leak at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
In January, news broke that Vermont’s sole and aging nuclear reactor on the banks of the Connecticut River was leaking radioactive tritium into nearby groundwater. Because Vermont’s water is held in the ‘public trust’ (meaning that is a resource to be used and safeguarded for the benefit of the public) such missteps are not only dangerous, but they are also, potentially, illegal.
The contamination of Vermont’s groundwater with radioactive tritium catalyzed the Vermont Natural Resources Council, one of the lead champions of the groundwater protection bill, to put the protective ‘public trust’ provision to the test. In an effort to help safeguard the resource, VNRC is intervening in the Public Service Board investigation of the Vermont Yankee tritium leak, arguing that the nuclear plant has no right to contaminate the state’s public trust groundwater resources.
That’s because groundwater is a public resource¬¬¬¬––a resource essential to human life. No one owns it, and no one should. It is a pivotal piece of our existence and, in places like Vermont, it is a powerful part of our cultural and recreational heritage.
Unfortunately, as water becomes increasingly scarce around the world, even Vermont’s water is not safe – or secure.
That will likely be the message that Vermonters will hear from Maude Barlow on July 29 in Burlington too, when the world-renowned expert discusses the need for ongoing vigilance for protecting Vermont’s water supplies in the face of intensifying global water insecurity.
Despite strong steps forward in protecting Vermont’s water, there is still much more that needs to be done to keep Vermont’s water pure, public and plentiful. It’s for that reason that three Vermont nonprofits are joining forces to host Ms. Barlow in an event sure to awaken and inspire new thinking on world water issues.
VNRC, the Community Sailing Center and the Vermont Peace and Justice Center are co-hosting Ms. Barlow for an evening event at the Main Street Landing Film House and Lake Lobby on the shores of Lake Champlain. The event will serve as a unique opportunity to learn much more about this pressing issue from one of the world’s most well-versed experts on the subject of water.
Come learn more about what’s happening – or not happening – in Vermont and beyond to protect water quality and ensure the life-sustaining resource is available to all. Find out what the three host organizations are doing together, and separately, to safeguard water supplies. Join friends, neighbors and fellow interested Vermonters for an evening dedicated to inspiration, information and fun.
Find out much more about water issues by visiting VNRC’s web site at www.vnrc.org or the Peace and Justice Center’s web site at www.pjcvt.org. Or call 802-223-2328 to get involved!