Friday, November 17, 2006

Groundwater as a public trust resourse

Groundwater is under threats of contamination and depletion. Clean, healthy water is essential for human health and for ecological health as well. Water should be considered a part of the commons, accessible to all for the common good, rather than a product sold for profit. Diversion of groundwater for profit is already occurring in Vermont, depleting the water resource for others whose wells and springs are going dry, and degrading a trout stream nearby. Lack of knowledge of groundwater availability can lead to its depletion when too many people draw upon the same aquifer or source of groundwater.

Groundwater appears vulnerable is the headline in today's Burlington Free Press.

The Rev. Sister Laurian Seeber, a nun and a priest in the Episcopal Church, sat before a panel of legislators and government officials Thursday and made the case for mapping and protecting Vermont's underground water -- soon.

"I suspect some of you believe that concern about groundwater supply is alarmist," Seeber said, acknowledging the abundant rainfall that Vermont has experienced in recent weeks. She argued that many parts of the country and the world are thirsty and looking for places to extract water.

"The Vermont name is a symbol for exactly what people want in water," Seeber said. "It's no accident that the water extracted from Randolph is called Vermont Pure. We are a logical target."

Seeber addressed a committee charged with deciding whether Vermont's underground water should be declared a public trust resource and its extraction regulated. The committee, set up this year by the Legislature, is at the beginning of a two-year study of this question.

About 70 percent of Vermonters rely on groundwater for drinking, several witnesses told the panel. Many have private wells, while others are served by public water systems supplied by wells.

Ray Counter, water superintendent for the Brandon Fire District, said 4,000 residents there rely on the water from three wells. It's top quality water, he said. "We don't disinfect, and the town citizens have been very adamant they would like to keep it that way."

In Williston, some residents in a rural section of town have been unable to obtain sufficient water from their wells, Nellis said. A neighborhood group has called for extension of town water service to the area -- an expensive proposition for individual homeowners and the town.

Act 144 (H. 294 passed by the Vermont Legislature in 2006) establishes an interim groundwater withdrawal permit program to regulate commercial and industrial groundwater withdrawals over 50,000 gallons a day, creates a task force charged with making recommendations on whether groundwater should be declared a public trust resource, and urges the State to obtain funding for groundwater mapping from the US Geological Survey and EPA. Both House representatives from Randolph were among the majority supporting this legislation.

The committee must file an interim report to the Legislature in January. Jon Groveman of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, appointed as a statewide environmental representative on the committee, said the panel should take a stand on mapping in the report.

"What I hear is a fair amount of consensus that we should do it," Groveman said. "It is an information tool that other states have, but it requires money, and that has always been the rub."

The committee didn't vote on including a recommendation on mapping, but Co-Chairwoman Diane Snelling, a state senator from Chittenden County, said, "We have heard enough information to say we think it is essential."

Sen Snelling's email:

Vermonters for a Clean Environment

We must hold our legislature accountable to the concept of groundwater as a public trust resource.


  1. Good to see this post on Groundwater in VT. Do you continue to follow it? I am investigating GW as a public trust for VT based on the development of property law over time in this area and compared to New Hampshire's public trust designation of GW.

  2. mica tucker, thank for your visit to BI. Yes, I follow the story, as a member of the Burlington Board of Health and also as a member of the Earth Care Circle at St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Burlington.


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