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Vermont Enacts Policy to Address Surface Water Withdrawals

Bill Takes Important Steps to Improve Climate-Resilience and Ensure More Equitable Access to our Waters

Montpelier – Yesterday, Governor Phil Scott signed H.466, a bill that addresses surface water withdrawals and interbasin transfers of water. This bill represents a significant step toward thoughtful climate-resilient protections for our rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, while ensuring equitable access for surface water users in the future.

Jon Groveman, VNRC Policy and Water Program Director said, “The bill is a vital step towards addressing withdrawals from Vermont’s public waters.  Vermont currently lacks a program to comprehensively address water withdrawals.  With increased periods of drought expected as a result of climate change it is more important than ever that Vermont ensure that our rivers, streams, lakes and ponds have sufficient water to support fish habitat, water quality and recreation.  By requiring the monitoring and regulation of withdrawals, H.466 will provide needed protection for Vermont’s waters.”

This legislation was supported by a range of organizations, including the Connecticut River Conservancy, Conservation Law Foundation, National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Center, Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited, and Vermont Natural Resources Council. 

As periods of drought increase and seasonal weather patterns grow more erratic, and we face increased developmental pressure, demands for surface water from industrial, agricultural, and municipal users are growing. Simultaneously, no standards exist under Vermont law to protect downstream users access to the amount of water that remains in a stream after a withdrawal. Only a few select surface water users are required to report and apply for a permit, including ski areas withdrawing water for snowmaking, de minimus users, and those triggering a federal water quality certificate. As a result, the State has little to no knowledge of the impact of water withdrawals.

In response to this issue, two years ago, the Legislature passed Act 173, which convened an expert study group to investigate and make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding the environmental, economic, and recreational impacts of surface water diversions, including the transfer of surface water between watersheds. H.466 is the product and recommendation of that study group, which sets forth future actions that will be informed by registration and monitoring data from existing withdrawals.

added, “This bill will take important steps to help ensure equitable access to surface water for all users, while leading to better protections for our lakes, ponds, streams and rivers.”