Editorial: Clean Water Act sets a high bar

Skeptics take note: The Vermont Clean Water Initiative passed into law this spring will make a significant difference to water quality throughout the state. With the teeth to make enforcement provisions stick, and with the EPA wielding the threat of more onerous penalties if the state standards don’t make the necessary improvements, Vermonters can look forward to cleaner streams and rivers initially, and our lakes in the not too distant future.
“We’re moving into a phase of implementation,” said newly installed Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren in an interview last week. With millions of dollars appropriated through the Vermont Clean Water Act (H.35), federal aid, donations, local funding and other sources, the state and EPA developed a measurable plan that holds appropriate officials responsible and has the potential to move the needle faster than many people would have thought probable. For cynics who think legislatures and state bureaucracies rarely succeed in any endeavor—let alone something as big as cleaning up the state’s rivers, streams and lakes—the Vermont Clean Water Act has the potential to prove them wrong.
That’s partly because the law expects sacrifice from all of us. That includes big industry and big farms, residential landowners and small farmers, foresters and municipalities with problematic dirt roads, and each of our municipal wastewater treatment plants. That’s as it should be. If we all pitch in and do our part, we’ll all benefit.
It won’t happen overnight and it won’t be without significant cost and sacrifice—including from the state’s many farmers, who are being asked to change their ways and expected to comply—but there are measurable targets to hit that will help keep the ball rolling. We can and should do more, but it’s a start and with each noticeable step of improvement the excitement will build and bring more compliance and acceptance of the sacrifice asked.
Angelo S. Lynn

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