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December 6th, 2016

Guest Opinion: Please Support Legal Action to Keep Montpelier’s Drinking Water Clean

By Isabelle Boutin, Lilli Curtin and Sanela Bikic
For over 130 years, the city of Montpelier has used Berlin Pond as its water source. For many years, recreation on the pond was restricted due to concerns about water quality.

However, recently this has changed.

In 2009, a couple, arrested for boating on the pond, brought up a controversy involving use of the pond. This disagreement was soon addressed with a Vermont Supreme Court ruling that gave the Agency of Natural Resources control of the pond. Although the ban on recreation has been ended, there is a notion, strongly supported by Montpelier citizens, to go through with several solutions that would help Montpelier regain control over the pond, and prohibit recreation.

One of these solutions is to amend the City of Montpelier Charter, giving the city authority to regulate its public water source. When this article was voted on, at the 2016 town meeting day, 2791 citizens were in support of the change.ĘA second solution will allow for a legal injunction, targeted at the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. Although this approach would not prohibit recreation, the injunction would stop the construction of a proposed boat launch at Berlin Pond, therefore making recreation harder to obtain. To prohibit or limit recreation, policy makers should consider moving forward with the charter change or filing a legal injunction, to maintain adequate water quality, and save money.

There are many negative effects of allowing recreation on Berlin Pond.ĘFirst, contaminated boats may spread zebra mussels to the body of water. Zebra mussels are harmful to pond ecosystems as they can change the ecology of the pond and clog system’s filters, intakes, and pipes. Water intake pipes provide an ideal habitat for the zebra mussels because they provide both protection and a constant flow of water. Once zebra mussels are attached to a surface in an ideal environment, they multiply rapidly and form densely-packed colonies. Zebra mussels are shown to have caused direct economic damage by attaching to hard substrates like drinking water intake pipes and power plant equipment.

In addition, recreation on Berlin Pond will result in excess sediment in the water. As people swim or launch boats into the pond, particles of sediment are kicked up, affecting the quality of the water and making it more polluted. With increased amounts of sediment in the water, Montpelier has to clean its water treatment filters 20 percent more frequently than it used to, increasing processing costs. As recreation will decrease water quality, disturb the pond ecosystem, and damage water filtration infrastructure, resulting in higher maintenance costs, action needs to be taken.

One proposition is a City of Montpelier charter change. This charter change was originally introduced to committee in March earlier this year, but failed to go through. In an effort to allow Montpelier to regain control over its water source, the charter change needs to be brought up in the next legislative term.

Advocating for this charter change would help citizens of Montpelier to keep their drinking water clean. This charter change would make it so only Montpelier would be able to have access to Berlin Pond. Using Berlin Pond as our drinking source is very dangerous because there are many bacteria that cannot be killed by chemicals from the water treatment plant. Currently, Montpelier is the only state capital to get its water from an unprotected body of water. If we continue to recreate on it, then there is a higher risk of cryptosporidium contamination, which is a cause of waterborne infectious diseases and also has many health decreasing properties. Cryptosporidium is carried by swimmers and is not killed by chlorine. It can cause acute intestinal illness which can be fatal to young, old and immunocompromised people.

Also recreation results in invasive species and bacteria such as Eurasian milfoil, an invasive weed that causes problems such as clogging the treatment plant’s water intake pipe. One of the many benefits to this charter change is that Montpelier would get a chance to control the water it provides to its people. This is important for the people who are paying for the drinking water and the ones who are drinking the water. The cost that comes along with that is Montpelier would take control of the Berlin Pond, which some Berlin citizens feel is necessary to keep.

A charter change introduction would be one of the last opportunities for Montpelier to regain control over the Berlin Pond. The charter change would help to manage water quality, by keeping chemicals and harmful diseases out of the water. Also equally important, the change would help to maintain a healthy pond ecosystem, by reducing risk of introduction of invasive species. If nothing is done about this serious issue, there is a chance the Montpelier citizens, as well as the pond itself, will be negatively affected.

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