Groundwater protection bill passes

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(Host) The Legislature has passed a bill that supporters say will protect the state’s groundwater supplies.

The bill is a compromise. An earlier version would have imposed a moratorium on large scale withdrawals of groundwater.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Representative Steve Adams is a Republican who chairs the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee. He says he worked to get the bill passed because Vermont’s ability to protect groundwater lags behind neighboring states.

(Adams) “Many of our other surrounding states, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts they all currently have some sort of groundwater withdrawal regulatory scheme in place. Vermont did not. That left us ripe for the picking, I think, ripe for exploitation of our groundwater which we all seem to take for granted.”

(Dillon) The bill says that anyone who wants to withdraw more than 50,000 gallons a day for sale or public use has to get a state permit.

Adams says it’s important that the state regulate the water withdrawals because under international free trade agreements – such as the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA – international companies could try to operate here without any controls.

(Adams) “One of the problems we would have if a corporation came in here prior to having a regulatory process in place, they could bring expropriation claims against the state of Vermont under GATT or NAFTA that they had a financial expectation and we came behind them to regulate that. For me that was the important thing, was to cover that – that we had a regulatory scheme in place.”

(Dillon) In an earlier version, the bill set up a moratorium on withdrawals of more than 50,000 gallons-a-day.

But the Senate scrapped the moratorium in favor of the permit program. Patrick Berry is with the Vermont Natural Resources Council. He says the deal that was struck will lead to additional mapping of ground water supplies. Berry says the mapping requirement is key to protecting the resource.

(Berry) “So far Vermont hasn’t done any mapping of aquifers like other New England states have. And the bill that will come out of the Senate and hopefully will be concurrent on by the House and will be voted on by the full legislature actually requires mapping that goes with an interim permitting process.”

(Dillon) Andrew MacLean is a lobbyist for the groundwater industry.

He says the final bill is one of those rare legislative compromises that please both sides.

(MacLean) “I give a lot of credit to VNRC and others for talking about this and trying to get what they wanted from the bill but recognizing other concerns. I think everybody got at least 80 -85% of what they wanted out of this. It worked out well for everybody. It’s unusual but I think it did in this case.”

(Dillon) The bill also sets up a study committee that will look at groundwater regulation – and whether ground water should be considered a public trust resource under Vermont law.

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

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