Groundwater mapping project behind schedule

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(Host) Two-thirds of Vermont’s population gets its drinking water from underground sources. Yet a program to map groundwater areas is under-funded and behind schedule. Environmentalists plan to make groundwater protection a top priority for the upcoming Legislature.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) State environmental officials have a pretty good idea about the health of Vermont’s surface waters – the lakes and streams around the state. But there’s much less known about the underground reservoirs, called aquifers, that are used by 66 percent of the state’s residents.

Two years ago, the Legislature asked the state Agency of Natural Resources to study groundwater issues.

(John Groveman) “And they issued a report that’s pretty discouraging.”

(Dillon) John Groveman is with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a statewide environmental group.

(Groveman) “It basically said we wouldn’t get even basic mapping until 2007, and that’s if nine positions are added.”

(Dillon) Groveman says Vermont needs the statewide mapping project both to inventory groundwater supplies and to see if development is a threat in some areas.

(Groveman) “We’re way behind the curve in not having a handle on the quantity and quality of the resources. The agency’s focused a lot on public drinking water supplies because there’s federal mandates to do that, and that’s obviously important. But in Vermont, we’re in a rural state and we have less public drinking water supplies than we do have people on private wells.”

(Dillon) But Larry Becker, the state geologist, says it’s very unlikely that officials will have the statewide mapping project done by 2007, as the report to the Legislature suggests.

(Becker) “I think it would be at this stage difficult to make a statewide view, the 2007 date that’s in there. That would certainly be very difficult to do, if not impossible.”

(Dillon) There’s both manmade and natural threats to groundwater. Uranium and arsenic found in some rock formations have shown up in well water. Old landfills and industrial sites have polluted aquifers. Development can also put a strain on underground water supplies.

Becker says the state helps towns understand groundwater issues by using geological data along with reports from well drillers.

But he says it’s up to the Legislature to decide if more money and staff are needed.

(Becker) “We’re going at the pace that the resource allows. We’re working with particular towns that are interested in the groundwater resource, and we’re going where the direct interest is to go in a step-by-step fashion.”

(Dillon) The report to the Legislature says the basic mapping work would cost about $2.7 million. A more detailed project to assist towns in planning for development and groundwater protection would cost another $4 million.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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