U.S. Water News Online
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Lawmakers studying legislation that would protect Vermont's groundwater got dire warnings recently from a Canadian author about a worldwide shortage of fresh water that she said could worsen exponentially in the coming years.
“It's going to surpass energy as a national security issue for the United States,” said Maude Barlow, an Ottawa-based environmentalist and author of the books “Blue Gold” and “Blue Covenant.”
“There are alternative forms of energy, but we haven't yet found an alternative to water,” Barlow told a joint hearing of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee and the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources.
The Senate has passed, and the House panel soon is to take up, legislation that would declare the groundwater under Vermont a “public trust.” That's a legal doctrine that the legislation's backers say could provide protections for the state's aquifers essentially by restricting individual users from sucking them dry.
Barlow lauded the Senate for passing the bill and said she hopes the House will follow suit. But she said even with a new law in place, Vermont might be targeted by litigation brought under the North American Fair Trade Agreement saying the state's efforts to limit water withdrawals interfered with international trade in bottled water.
“The bottled water companies are everywhere in New England,” with large companies like Nestle looking to buy up smaller ones, as Nestle already has done with Poland Springs, Barlow said. She said she had met recently with lawmakers in Maine and New Hampshire, where many local communities are looking for ways to protect their local water supplies.
The Vermont groundwater protection bill is drawing opposition from the manufacturers' lobby Associated Industries of Vermont and other groups.
AIV Vice President William Driscoll said his and allied groups believe that public trust doctrine applied to groundwater could lay the groundwork for many new lawsuits without advancing Vermont's ability to protect its groundwater to a significant degree.
Citing that opposition, Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster and chairman of the House committee, urged supporters of the measure to contact their legislators and lobby for it.
As passed by the Senate, the bill:
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