(Host) The use of groundwater for commercial and industrial purposes has grown significantly in Vermont.
The growth has caught the attention of the Vermont legislature, which wants to make sure the state’s resources are protected.
The matter came up in a Senate committee today where a moratorium on water extraction is under discussion.
VPR’s John Dillon has the story.
(Dillon) Jim Morgan is president of Clear Source bottled water. The Massachusetts company owns the Vermont Pure springs in Randolph. Morgan says the company owns water sources in Vermont that it hasn’t yet developed. So he told the Senate Natural Resources Committee that a moratorium could hurt his business.
(Morgan) “The provision is a long way from my perspective. It’s a moratorium that could truly impact the potential for growth for our firm.”
(Dillon) The bill would set a five-year moratorium on groundwater removal of more than 50-thousand gallons a day. It applies to operations that pump water out of the ground, as well as companies that bottle water from springs that percolate to the surface.
Supporters of the bill say it’s needed because state regulations are inadequate. Judith Peach from Bakersfield told the panel that she got concerned after a developer proposed a water extraction plan that would draw down an aquifer used by her and her neighbors.
(Peach) “We were surprised there were no state regulations on large-volume withdrawals of ground water from the state of Vermont. The only permit that these people would have to get is the public water source permit, which I understand is mostly to do with the water being clean and healthful to drink, nothing about the impact on the ecosystem, our neighborhoods, our houses and farms.”
(Dillon) Natural Resources Committee chairman Virginia Lyons says the moratorium would also give the state time to prepare for the global marketplace. She says that international companies have used free trade agreements to pre-empt state laws that protect groundwater.
(Lyons) “The free trade agreements have opened up this whole new way of looking at states and state regulations and we want to be sure that we have regulations in place that protect groundwater for Vermonters.”
(Dillon) Environmentalists want stronger regulations. John Groveman, a lawyer for the Vermont Natural Resources Council, says neighboring states do a better job of protecting water supplies.
(Groveman) “We have no idea how many commercial industrial withdrawals are out there taking water out of the ground. We haven’t mapped our groundwater so we don’t really have maps of our resources. So what we need is we need a time out so we can get a handle on what the resource is, create a comprehensive ground water withdrawal program like New Hampshire has, like Massachusetts has and Maine is working towards.”
(Dillon) The moratorium bill has already passed the House. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator James Jeffords is trying to get federal funds to complete the statewide groundwater mapping project.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.