Montpelier needs clean drinking water

The Agency of Natural Resources will be holding a public hearing this evening at 6:00 to consider recreational use of Berlin Pond, the source of Montpelier's drinking water.  The hearing will be at the Berlin Elementary School, and is likely to be heavily attended by people on both sides of the controversy.
Recent Montpelier City Council candidate Page Guertin provides this commentary, with background and reasons why the state should not allow the proposed recreational use of this vital natural resource: 
Berlin Pond has been Montpelier's tap water supply source for 130 years, and during that time it has been protected from human use and therefore a relatively pure water supply.  Now through a combination of governmental action (or inaction) and a Vermont Supreme Court ruling, that history has been turned on its head, and Montpelier's water supply is seriously threatened by human recreation on the pond.  Montpelier owns most of the land around the pond, but not all of it, and a disputed area is being surveyed for the possibility of installing a gravel launch ramp for boats on that location, to be built by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Governor Shumlin and Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources Deb Markowitz believe that opening the pond to recreation is a great victory for sportsmen's rights under Vermont's public trust doctrine.  But what about the citizens of Montpelier and the thousands of people who work there daily? What about the Central Vermont Medical Center?  What about the residents and businesses in Berlin that use the same water source?  What about their rights – or rather their absolute requirement – for clean water?  Whose rights are more important?  Which use is more applicable under the public trust?
It was very clear in the Supreme Court decision of 2012 that the court recognized the significance of Berlin Pond as the water source for Montpelier.  It was also clear that the court handed ANR two options for protecting that source: limit the use of Berlin Pond while still remaining within the bounds of the public trust – a public water supply easily falls within that definition – or delegate authority over the pond to Montpelier.  Either of these actions would be a reasonable and responsible position for ANR to take.  Keeping the pond open to boating, fishing and swimming is simply irresponsible in these times of declining clean water sources, increasing pollutants, multiplying invasives and greater understanding of the hazards of pathogens and petrochemical contamination.
Fresh water supplies worldwide are dwindling due to overuse, industrial pollution, population increase and climate change.  Here in Vermont we are fortunate to have abundant fresh water, but we cannot afford to abuse it or take its quality for granted.  Vermont's water quality policy (VSA 10, §1250) begins with “(1) protect and enhance the quality, character and usefulness of its surface waters and to assure the public health; (2) maintain the purity of drinking water….”  It goes on to state, “It is further the policy of the state to seek over the long term to upgrade the quality of waters and to reduce existing risks to water quality.”  Allowing recreation on Berlin Pond flies in the face of that policy.  Additionally, the water rules which say boating, fishing and swimming are compatible with drinking water supplies are frankly out of date given our current level of knowledge about pathogens, invasives, the hazards of petroleum in our water, and the rising expense of purification.  The original 1926 Board of Health rule protecting the pond was written to prohibit “activities judged to potentially pollute a source of water,”  according to the Supreme Court opinion.  ANR chose not to adopt that rule when authority over the waters transferred from the Department of Health.  The rules can be changed, however, and ANR is in a position to do that.  Massachusetts, for example, has an exception to its public trust doctrine which protects drinking water supplies.  We would be wise to do that in Vermont.
According to the designer of Montpelier's water treatment plant, that system is not capable of detecting or removing petroleum products, nor can it handle greatly increased turbidity.  Invasive species like zebra mussels or Eurasian milfoil, unwittingly carried into the water on the bottom of boats or on waders, could clog the water intake or the filtration system, requiring expensive maintenance.  People walking along the silty shores to fish or launch boats stir up the soft bottom, muddying the water and causing turbidity, and swimmers – just by being in the water – increase the fecal coliforms and other pathogens present.  Both turbidity and pathogens increase the demand for chlorine used to treat the water.  Chlorine is a known carcinogen, despite its worldwide use for water purification – do we really want to increase the amount of it required to remove pathogens in our water?  What happens if the treatment plant cannot keep up with the degradation of the water coming into it?  Who pays for the upgrades that may be required?  We pay: the users of the system, not the boaters or fishermen.
Prevention is always more effective and less expensive than remediation.

24 thoughts on “Montpelier needs clean drinking water

  1. ‘Reminds me of the days of arguing to prevent snowmobiles from crossing public lands.

    Ridiculous concept that seems to have been birthed in Texas.

    Protecting our precious water supply for all living things trumps “sportsmen’s rights” anywhere common sense still prevails.

  2. A tiny minority’s right to waste resources and destroy the planet far outweighs the lives of everyone else that needs tho0se resources to survive.

  3. for even entertaining the idea of using drinking water supply, much less lauding & praising it’s public use.

    What the hell is wrong with these ppl. Public use of a drinking water supply??? Giving precedence to drinking water kind of a no f’king brainer one would think.

    Really disappointed by our state leaders right on down the line. More often than not seems like so many decisions & stories reveal the fact that ordinary VT residents are always getting the short end & basic needs are never the priority — but some jerk who wants to pollute the waterways — in this case drinking water for recreation is just fine.

    Another epic fail if this decision is not reversed. Thanks for the news — we need to know no matter how bad.  

  4. As I understand it, the proposed recreational use of Berlin Pond is limited to human-powered activity — swimming, canoeing, kayaking. No engines. If this is indeed the case, then I don’t see any real threat to the quality of Montpelier’s drinking water.

    There are far bigger and more important battles to fight. This is a sideshow.

    Okay, go ahead and pummel my POV.  

  5. The risks associated with surface use of a drinking water supply have been the subject of a number of studies, most recently by two EPA review studies of Fecal Contamination and Zoonotic pathogens in recreational waters (2009).  Both studies identify risks associated with body contact recreation (bathing) to water quality and public health. Additional risks are associated with the use of motor fuels and lubricants associated with boating. These risks are increased with older two-cycle engines, which discharge unburned hydrocarbons in measurable quantities during normal operations (Asplund, 2000). There are also security risks associated with boating access to drinking water supplies, including vandalism, deliberate contamination, and accidental discharge of contaminants.

  6. You know, you can fish from shore, and if you’re a real spor5tsman, you don’t throw dead fish or garbage into the pond, or lake.  As far as folks swimming and canoeing and kayaking in my drinking water, well, I do not believe these folks will give a shit about taking a shit or throwing shit into the water.  That’s what recreational use of lakes and ponds has become.  How are they going to regulate good manners and descent behavior?  Throw empty beer bottles at them?

  7. here are the VNRC’s recommendations on some protections for the pond that might be considered, assuming that some recreational use is ultimately permitted:

    “Despite the Court’s decision, we believe there are still several avenues the City of Montpelier can pursue to protect the pond’s ecology and maintain water quality.  One of these avenues is for Montpelier to petition the Agency of Natural Resources for the pond to become an Outstanding Resource Water.  Reclassification of adjoining lands to a Class One wetland could also be considered. “

  8. It’s a packed house. They started alternating between supporters and opponents of regulation, but the rod and gun folks ran out a long time ago and the agency is hearing a long list of articulate, well-informed voices in favor of protecting our drinking water.

  9. It’s a packed house. They started alternating between supporters and opponents of regulation, but the rod and gun folks ran out a long time ago and the agency is hearing a long list of articulate, well-informed voices in favor of protecting our drinking water.

  10. added epmphasis

    [..]with the construction of a boat launch and boat washing station on the pond, bringing with it the possibility of gasoline and other fuel leaks from snowmobiles, trucks or ice augers, all of which transportation and recreation devices are currently allowed on or near the pond. Prolonged or increased human contact will necessitate the increase of chlorine to disinfect Montpelier’s drinking water, and without expensive changes to the filtration plant, petroleum contamination cannot be filtered or even detected.

    Even if only used for swimming there will be an increase in usage of carcinogenic chemicals to keep the water drinkable. If the bacteria count cannot be controlled the water cannot be used for drinking or swimming, this typically occurs in August.

    Unfortunately even in a best-case there are those who choose to piss & shit in the water while swimming as well as parental failure to change diapers frequently enough.

  11. emphasis

    MTBE started getting added to gasoline in a big way after the Clean Air Act of 1990 went into effect. Gasoline can contain as much as 10% to 15% MTBE.

    The main problem with MTBE is that it is thought to be carcinogenic and it mixes easily with water, . If gasoline containing MTBE leaks from an underground tank at a gas station, it can get into groundwater and contaminate wells. Of course, MTBE isn’t the only thing getting into the groundwater when a tank leaks — so is gasoline and a host of other gasoline additives, but in recent years, MTBE has been singled out.

    According to this page at the EPA:

    Although there is no established drinking-water regulation, USEPA has issued a drinking-water advisory of 20 to 40 micrograms per liter (µg/L) on the basis of taste and odor thresholds. This advisory concentration is intended to provide a large margin of safety for noncancer effects and is in the range of margins typically provided for potential carcinogenic effects.

    I’ve been told this is why one is not supposed to try to fill tank but to cease pumping hen the nozzle quits — to prevent MBTE from getting into the groundwater from large amounts of tiny “spills”.

  12. Berlin Pond already has a Eurasian watermilfoil infestation.  This invasive plant has been present in Berlin Pond since at least as far back as 1986.  Zebra mussels, however, have not been observed in Berlin Pond – nor in any other Vermont Lakes and Ponds other than Lake Champlain and Lake Bomoseen.

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