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August 26, 2008

Groundwater Update

Water Back in February, I wrote a Seven Days cover story about Vermont's bottled water industry and the impact it may be having on the state's groundwater resources. Part of my piece focused on the Montpelier Spring Water Company, a bottled-water firm that is seeking to withdraw water from a spring that belongs to its CEO.

That story, to my mind, seemed timely for several reasons. In December 2007, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) had held what were likely the first-ever congressional hearings on groundwater impacts. Disputes between bottled-water companies and citizen activists were bubbling up around the county. And Vermont legislators were considering S.304, a bill that sought to make groundwater a "public trust" resource and establish groundwater-withdrawal limits (Governor Jim Douglas signed it into law on June 9.)

In an August 20 story, "Bottling Plan Pushes Groundwater to Center Stage in Vermont,"  New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer — who visited Burlington last winter to interview local author Bill McKibben about his climate-change advocacy work — put East Montpelier's groundwater issues on the national stage. "With the growing recognition that groundwater is not limitless, more states and localities are looking for ways to protect it," Barringer wrote. "Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Hampshire are at the forefront of this trend, and Vermont is now making its move."

Carolyn Shapiro, a neighbor who is opposed to the bottling project, appreciated the Times story. Barringer had interviewed her, but Shapiro wasn't sure she'd be quoted. "I thought she wanted to do a more general piece," Shapiro told me recently, "but she ended up talking quite a bit about Vermont."

Here are some local details that didn't make the Times' cut:

  1. State officials told me in March that East Montpelier's groundwater moratorium may not be legally enforceable.
  2. This spring, according to East Montpelier Zoning Administrator Bruce Johnson, the Montpelier Spring Water Company filed a source-water permit with Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources.
  3. After Gov. Douglas signed S.304 into law on June 9, East Montpelier's town plan was amended to acknowledge the legislation's passage.
  4. A few weeks ago, East Montpelier Planning Commission proposed revisions to town zoning ordinances that would place restrictions on groundwater extractions.

"That little issue is preliminary," Johnson said yesterday in reference to proposed changes, "but if what has been proposed ends up being adopted, it's a pretty good controlling mechanism for things like groundwater withdrawal." Johnson expects the East Montpelier Selectboard to vote on the zoning revisions this fall. 

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