|The quality of our lives rests on the quality of our basic life support: the air we breathe and the water we drink. The Agency of Natural Resources helps protect and improve the health of Vermonters and the vitality of our state's ecosystems through our efforts to enhance air and water quality, ensure safe drinking water, limit Vermonters' exposure to hazardous materials, and manage species in a sustainable manner. Healthy individuals and ecosystems are the very underpinning of what makes Vermont special.
In regard to human health, Vermont's air quality meets national standards. At the same time, our state is downwind from heavily industrialized regions of the country, meaning a variety of pollutants are constantly falling on our hillsides, fields, lakes, and rivers. We also need to further reduce levels of ozone and small particles in our atmosphere.
In-state water pollution is another major concern. Our rivers and lakes suffer from nonpoint source pollution in the form of run-off from lawns, parking lots, farms, and failed septic systems. After 30 years of aggressively reducing point source pollution, such as industries and municipal sewer systems, the Agency is turning its attention to nonpoint pollution. Unlike our efforts to curb point source water pollution, however, regulation does not work as well in controlling the hundreds of sources of run-off.
Drinking water in Vermont comes from private wells and public water systems. Private wells generally yield drinkable water in all parts of the state, while public water systems are routinely monitored, and most meet all health-based standards. Vermont has many small public water systems which must meet water quality and operational standards similar to those of larger water systems; some of the ongoing challenges for these small water systems include maintenance of good water quality and all the aspects of running a public utility (operation, monitoring, maintenance, finance, and reporting.)
The health of Vermonts ecosystems is continuously changing due to natural and human-made forces. For example, three-quarters of Vermont was cleared of timber 100 years ago; today, after decades of hill farms closing down, approximately 78 percent of Vermont is covered with forests, allowing for the return of many forest-dwelling wildlife species. As our forests age, red maples are making up more of our hardwood species, replacing valuable birch, beech, and sugar maples.
Forests, surface waters, and wetlands in some areas are in poor health due to the introduction of foreign species such as honeysuckle, water chestnut, Eurasian milfoil, and purple loosestrife.
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The Agency of Natural Resources is initiating a new way of managing Vermont's waters-- a community-based program involving thousands of Vermonters in improving and protecting water quality in their watersheds. The cornerstone of the Watershed Improvement Project will be the development and support of watershed associations that involve a broad cross- section of the public. With technical guidance and modest financial support from the Agency, these associations will assess the condition of waters within watersheds and develop action-oriented plans to protect and improve water quality.
We believe Vermonters want to be involved in shaping the future of local waters for the benefit of themselves, their children, and generations to come. The Watershed Improvement Project is an innovative approach to planning and watershed restoration and protection which focuses on the partnerships between state and local interests, including towns, local conservation commissions, agriculture, industry, property owners, and watershed groups.
Communities and watershed groups will find their own solutions to environmental conservation and economic prosperity with the assistance and participation of the Watershed Improvement Project. Strategies to create better watersheds may include preserving green space, keeping access open to waterfalls and swimming holes, and locating and reducing nonpoint source pollution.
By emphasizing local commitment and responsibility, we can achieve improvements in water quality, aquatic habitat, and riparian areas that we have been unable to effect through traditional regulatory means.