Legislative committe looks at groundwater issues

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(Host) Vermont needs much more information about its abundant but potentially threatened groundwater supplies.

That was the message today to a legislative committee that has launched a two-year study of groundwater issues.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Lee Nellis is the town planner for Williston, a fast-growing bedroom community outside Burlington. He offers a cautionary tale about scarce groundwater water supplies.

Nellis says as development expanded in the Oak Knoll area of town, each new homeowner drilled a new well. But eventually, the wells went dry.

(Nellis) “As time went by and more and more folks live in the area, it became obvious that many of the homes did not have an adequate supply of groundwater.”

(Dillon) The homeowners with the dry wells wanted the town to extend municipal water lines to the areas at cost of up to $16,000 per house. People with sufficient water balked at the price. And the result was a bitter dispute between neighbors who had enough water and those without.

Nellis says there’s a lesson here for the state as a whole.

(Nellis) “The towns as they develop certainly need to pay attention to this. Because the consequence is very large expenditures in infrastructure that really ought not to have been necessary if somebody had been planning ahead.”

(Dillon) The Legislature in the last session created a committee to look at groundwater supplies and regulation. The committee is supposed to recommend whether groundwater should be considered part of the public trust – essentially a resource that belongs to everyone.

Hugo Liepmann of Randolph Center held a plastic bottle of clear liquid and gave the panel a short course on the mystery of water, and why it needs protection. There’s no new water being made, he says. What we have now has been recycled endlessly through the ages.

(Liepmann) “The water in this bottle is as old as the earth. And that really stops me when I realize this water has been tree sap, it’s been maybe the blood of the fish. It’s been in a sewer. It’s been in a swamp, maybe not even in Vermont, maybe in China, who knows.”

(Dillon) The panel is interested in expanding groundwater mapping throughout the state, so people know where the supplies are -and what areas need protection.

Members also want Governor Jim Douglas to complete the appointments to the committee. The statute requires the governor to appoint an environmental member, but the post has been vacant all summer and fall.

Senator Diane Snelling, a Chittenden County Republican, is the panel’s co-chair.

(Snelling) “We have now had three meetings. And it’s very difficult and complex information and we are clearly concerned that somebody should come on as soon as possible.”

(Dillon) The committee will write Douglas a letter asking him to make the appointment.

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

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