by Paul Perley
It seems more than strange that H.33 can’t seem to find traction in the legislature. The bill is very simple. It would give municipalities the authority to control the use of their drinking water source, if they so chose, provided the source was a lake or pond. It would affect at most 1.4 percent of the 812 bodies of water in Vermont. It would help safeguard the purity of source water for the foreseeable future. And it’s basically cost-free. So why the difficulty? The Clean Water Day event at the State House on March 17 gives us some clues.
The feel-good event focused almost entirely on Lake Champlain with various political figures holding hands and telling us that although the cleanup would be long and expensive and the results could not be guaranteed, tough choices would be made and, in the “Vermont tradition,” we would do the right thing. The same people who spoke, including elected officials and representatives from the Department of Environmental Conservation, have opposed H.33 which, at no cost to the state, would prevent a similar situation from occurring down the road with other drinking water sources. Experts have testified conclusively about the necessity of protection and, more importantly, every other New England state has far stricter policies concerning recreation on their water sources.
The opposition seems to be centered in the Vermont Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, the Vermont arm of the National Rifle Association. The federation has solidly endorsed Peter Shumlin and testified vehemently against H.33, and the governor is clearly reluctant to disagree with an organization that, among other things, has almost unlimited financial resources at its disposal. Shumlin made a strong “clean water” speech at the beginning of this administration, and then immediately backed up and opposed H.33. The speakers at the State House event carefully put the “need for places of peaceful recreation” in the same sentences as “clean drinking water.” Officials like David Mears, Louis Porter, and other Shumlin appointees are not about to jeopardize their paychecks by standing up to the governor.
The safety and perpetuation of clean drinking water has to be a real conversation, not a stonewall. Boating, fishing, hunting and swimming are things that all of the people who favor H.33 enjoy doing and it is important that these be protected also. But clean drinking water is not just nice, it is essential and it is not compatible with these activities. Ask all the other New England states. H.33 involves a miniscule number of ponds, hardly a sacrifice for the Vermont Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs. The Vermont state government has always given the impression that it’s not like other state governments. That the needs of its people are listened to and acted upon. This is simply not true, at least not under the Shumlin administration. Powerful special interests are giving politics yet another triumph over precious resources, long-term citizen health, future economic costs, and just plain reason.
The writer is a member of the Clean Water Coalition, formerly Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond.