Commentary: Clean water funding is a win for Vermont
Clean water funding is a win for Vermont. And like so much of the Legislature's work, it addresses climate change.
Clean water funding restores our natural environment. When the environment is clean, wildlife and plants thrive and Vermonters are healthier. Vermont's valuable brand is protected and businesses that rely on our brand prosper, whether by drawing tourists to our state or opening markets and garnering a premium for anything labelled 'Made in Vermont.'
Clean water funding provides jobs for those who clean up Vermont's waters so streams, rivers, and lakes are drinkable, swimmable, and fishable —and it accomplishes these objectives throughout Vermont because at least 20 percent of all clean water funding, up to $5 million, is for all 14 counties. It addresses climate change by making Vermont's watersheds, which are the wetlands, streams and rivers that feed into lakes, more able to withstand severe weather events like storms and flooding.
The Legislature's addition of new, dedicated clean water funding comes closer to reaching funding goals set out both by State Treasurer Beth Pearce in her clean water report and by the Lake Champlain Citizen's Advisory Committee. It comes closer to fulfilling the commitments Vermont made to the EPA, authorized by Act 64, to clean up Lakes Champlain and Memphremagog.
All this is good news. Once the the newly added funding source-- a reallocation of the rooms and meals tax-- is combined with the dedicated Clean Water Fund revenue-- comprising escheats on unclaimed bottle deposits and a percentage of the property transfer tax-- dedicated water clean up funding will reach $12 million yearly beginning FY2021. The funds will be distributed under the Legislature's newly-passed S.96.
How did this come about? House Democrats listened. We heard Vermonters ask for clean water and we made it a top priority.
Vermonters have made significant investments to clean our waters; to protect them from aquatic invasive species; to increase public access particularly in southern Vermont; and to build state agency capacity both to implement clean up policies and to help farmers meet Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs). State-funded projects demonstrate wastewater and stormwater best management practices. Local officials and public works departments run sewage treatment systems and taxpayers contribute locally to reduce combined storm water overflow discharges from sewage treatment facilities.
What does the work of water clean-up look like where you live? It employs Vermonters to reduce polluted stormwater runoff from farms, roads, and developed lands. One example is replacing undersized culverts to prevent erosion and protect plants along streams and riverbeds in order to reduce sediment and nutrient runoff into watersheds. Harmful nutrients in water bodies such as the Connecticut River Basin and Lake Memphremagog, for example, include phosphorous and nitrogen.
Because we are a state where tens of thousands of Vermonters volunteer, attend Town Meeting, and make our democracy work, you might be asking what you can do. You could volunteer with watershed groups such as the White River Watershed Partnership to raise money for the thousands of trees Vermonters plant to restore riparian barriers along river and stream banks. You might volunteer your time to plant those trees. You might create a rain garden in your yard and help a neighbor prevent storm-water runoff.
In the end, it is up to each of us to remain focused on common goals, to keep in mind the values we share, to be undistracted by what divides us, and to do whatever we can toward cleaning up Vermont's waters.
Vermont will continue on its path to cleaner water, so long as each one of us remains focused on that goal.
State Representative Carol Ode, Chittenden District 6-1 in Burlington's Far New North End, is serving her second term on the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee and is in her third year of service on the Lake Champlain Citizen's Advisory Committee.
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