Act H. 466, a bill that will help the State protect its surface waters, is being considered in the Vermont Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. Its recent passage in the Vermont House represents a significant step toward thoughtful climate-resilient protections for our rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, while ensuring equitable access for surface water users in the future.
“H.466 should be of particular interest to all of those who rely on surface water for their business and those who enjoy numerous outdoor activities including fishing and swimming. In the face of increased droughts due to climate change, this bill will ensure equitable access to surface water for users, while protecting the ecosystems of our streams and rivers. Vermont is behind our neighboring states in providing this protection,” said Kathy Urffer of the Connecticut River Conservancy.
“As the climate crisis threatens watersheds across Vermont, it’s critical that we take decisive action to protect this invaluable resource,” said Conservation Law Foundation attorney Mason Overstreet. “This bill will protect our waters and ensure their resilience for years to come, and the legislature should pass it.”
As H.466 moves through the Vermont Senate, Jon Groveman of the Vermont Natural Resources Council stated, “It is important that Senators understand that Vermont has little to no knowledge of the overall impact of these unregistered and unregulated water withdrawals from our rivers and lakes.”
“Unregulated water withdrawals from rivers and lakes have been a simmering issue for fishers for a long time because we see them while participating our sport and know that no one is paying attention to them,” said David Deen, former state representative and council member of the Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited.
As periods of drought increase and seasonal weather patterns grow more erratic, we face increased demands for surface water brought on by development pressure from industrial, agricultural, and municipal users. Simultaneously, no standards exist under Vermont law to protect downstream users access to the amount of water they need if insufficient water remains in a stream after the upstream withdrawal.
Only a few select surface water users are required to report and apply for a permit, including ski areas withdrawing water for snowmaking, public water supplies, and those withdrawals triggering a federal water quality certificate review. Otherwise, the State has little to no knowledge of the impact of water withdrawals.
In response to this issue, two years ago, the Legislature passed Act 173, which convened an expert study group to investigate and make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding the environmental, economic, and recreational impacts of surface water diversions, including the transfer of surface water between watersheds. H.466 is the product and recommendation of that study group, which sets forth future actions that will be informed by registration and monitoring data from existing withdrawals.
A coalition of environmental organizations have been helping to move the issue, they include Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited, Connecticut River Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation, and the Conservation Law Foundation.
Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited