Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Protecting the Hidden Resource We All Depend On

Every day, more than 60% of Vermonters depend on groundwater for drinking water, and for agricultural, commercial and industrial needs. For such a substantial resource, few people pay attention to groundwater until it runs out or becomes unsafe. Groundwater is out-of-sight and out-of-mind, which can lead to inadvertent mismanagement or contamination, resulting in problems for human health, increased economic costs, and environmental damage.

In celebration of National Groundwater Awareness Week, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released a plan to protect this hidden resource all Vermonters depend on. DEC partnered with the Vermont Geological Survey, the US EPA, USGS and other agencies to create the Vermont Groundwater Management Plan. The Plan outlines how Vermont’s groundwater supplies will be managed to ensure residents have access to safe, reliable water. Clean water underground is just as important as clean water in our lakes and rivers.

“The Vermont Groundwater Management Plan looks out for every Vermonter. It treats our groundwater as a precious public resource and it lays out specific tasks to look after this resource for generations to come,” said DEC Commissioner Emily Boedecker. “The plan provides towns and businesses with valuable guidance on where to look for and how to conserve favorable groundwater areas for future use. It also offers ways to deal effectively with contaminated areas and contamination events.”

The Groundwater Management Plan details how the State will identify groundwater resources and impacts to these resources, such as large withdrawals or chemical contamination. The plan shows how permitted activities, such as large waste disposal areas and landfills, are regulated. It also contains groundwater assistance resources for towns, neighborhoods, and businesses.

Highlights of the Plan include:

• Updating Vermont’s groundwater well inventory so that the locations of public and private wells across the state are better understood.

• Investigating specific areas where harmful chemicals like arsenic and nitrates have high concentrations in groundwater.

• Developing regional groundwater maps to show where favorable aquifers are located, areas of limited water availability, and places where the groundwater is in danger of being depleted through overuse.

• Providing technical assistance to towns to set aside groundwater reserves. This assistance helps towns become more resilient to extreme weather events like drought, which was something Jeffersonville and Dorset experienced recently when spring water ran dangerously low.

The Groundwater Management Plan will help Vermonters protect this hidden resource right under one’s feet by improving communications, promoting collaboration and fostering greater understanding. For more information regarding groundwater, please visit dec.vermont.gov/water/groundwater and contact Scott Stewart at (802) 585-4910. Scott is the chair of the DEC Groundwater Coordinating Committee. This committee provides expert advice on issues related to groundwater use and protection.