Statement of Senator James Jeffords
Oversight Hearing on Water Supply
Environment and Public Works Committee
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water
November 14, 2001
I want to thank our witnesses for appearing today before the Subcommittee to discuss this critical issue with us. When we think of water supply issues, we most often think of agriculture in the arid west or Midwest. However, I suspect that we will hear today that water supply issues, whether the issue is too little water or too much water, impact all areas of the country.
Right now, Vermont is in the 6th month of very dry, drought-like conditions.
The municipal water systems serving the largest population centers generally have adequate capacity. However, the large majority of rural Vermonters draw their water from individual wells.
Many, many of these wells are stressed by drought. Well - drillers are booked solid through the end of the year. With winter fast approaching, it is that much more difficult to deal with water supply issues and there is little hope of well or springs recharging once the ground freezes.
There are no established programs through which the State can assist these individuals, many of whom are economically challenged. The USDA Rural Development program does have some assistance available to rural homeowners, but this program is often not ideally structured to meet the needs of Vermonters.
I am deeply concerned about the rural families of Vermont and their well-being over the long winter. I believe that if some action is not taken, portions of the state will truly be facing a crisis in the coming months. I want to share with the Committee and our witnesses the story of one Vermonter that is reminiscent of the pioneering days of westward expansion in our nation.
An elderly woman who lives alone in rural Vermont is faced with an almost insurmountable burden in the coming winter. Her well has run dry and, like many Vermonters, she is unable to get a new well drilled before winter sets in. To survive the winter and gather water for the most basic of bathing, cooking, and cleaning needs, she will be walking ½ mile to her nearest neighbor's home and carrying water through the snow back to her house.
I plan to work over the next few weeks with my colleagues on this subcommittee and in the full Congress to ensure that the USDA's Rural Development Program has the resources and the ability to provide assistance to those in crisis due to water shortage this winter. I also plan to work with my colleagues to make emergency grants if required through the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that the people of Vermont have access to the most basic services that every American enjoys.
I am pleased that this subcommittee is taking such a thorough look at the water policy issues facing our nation before proceeding with water infrastructure legislation in January.
I want to take a few minutes to introduce Mr. Jay Rutherford who is one of our witnesses today on our second panel and hails from Waterbury, Vermont. Jay is the Director of Water Supply for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, a position he has held since 1992. In this capacity, Jay is responsible for the management of the state's drinking water program, groundwater protection program, and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. He also administers the state's comprehensive source protection plan program. Prior to assuming the directorship of the department, Jay oversaw the administration of both the drinking water and wastewater grant and loan programs for the state.
He was also responsible for the development and implementation of those programs' information management systems. Jay has also had experience as an engineering consultant, a software author, a public school teacher, and a Peace Corps volunteer.
He received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Vermont and is a Registered Professional Engineer. I am very pleased that Jay can be here with us today to offer the benefit of his expertise on water issues in Vermont as well as the cumulative knowledge of the Association.
I also hope that we continue to utilize his expertise in administration of the drinking water and wastewater grant and loan programs for Vermont as we proceed with water infrastructure legislation.