As I reflect on this past legislative session that moved us to better protect our lakes, rivers, and ponds in Vermont, I am encouraged by all of the work that took place to make it happen. This landmark water quality legislation provides a framework for addressing nutrient loads and pollution entering our water bodies.
The conversation and the move to action would not have happened without honesty. We all had to be honest about what was happening to Lake Champlain, Lake Carmi, and other bodies of water for us to be heard.
Being honest about our polluted lakes and rivers is a challenge for Vermonters. We pride ourselves on our exemplary environmental image and we want the outside world to see us as a ‘green’. We recycle, hug trees, and ban billboards. We are Vermonters, the real environmentalists! The environmental hype we proclaim, however was not being reflected in how we think about water. At a conference the other day, I heard that Vermont scored worst in the Nation for shallow lake habitat otherwise known as littoral habitat. I was shocked when I heard worst. We were dead last.
In order to understand the magnitude of the problem and help the people who pass our laws believe it, we had to show them what we knew to be truths and help them see our plight. Our campaign to the legislators was direct, bold, and shock full of life sized images of blue-green algae. We were relentless in our demand for clean water and worked hand in hand with Emerson Lynn from the Messenger to get the story of how this affects our lives on a daily basis.
In addition to honesty, we needed to join together with unlikely partners. People who this bill will affect the most needed to say that they also needed and wanted clean water and they were willing to come up with solutions. The list of partners who stepped forward included farmers, developers, and municipalities. This problem affects all of us and if we cannot work together to fix it, we will be unable to move forward.
This bill also took leadership. Leadership comes in many forms, from many people, but this signature legislation never would have happened without the tireless effort of the Shumlin Administration and the leadership from the representatives at the Vermont statehouse.
When I think about what I do and who I work for, I have to constantly remind myself that I work for the Lake. I speak for something that has no voice of its own. Fresh water is essential to human life, yet in Vermont we have taken it for granted. As we move into the rule making phase of this bill, I want to remind everyone who worked so hard to get it passed to remember who we are making the rules for.
We are making the rules for the water – the lakes, the ponds, and the rivers and stream.
As the voices of various interest groups will make themselves heard over the next 2 years, as we move through the rule making process, we need to remember that the water cannot speak for itself and this is after all the water protection bill. The rules need to reflect the true intention of this legislation and we all need to continue to work on behalf of the water!