By Julie Moore
Despite the Scott administration’s commitment to restoring Vermont’s waterways and funding clean water initiatives, recent news stories have contained inaccurate information and given the false impression that we’re decelerating our efforts. This is simply not the case.
The Agency of Natural Resources, and all the partners engaged in this work – including sister state agencies, Vermont municipalities, regional planning commissions, conservation districts, non-profit and watershed organizations, and private landowners from farms to real estate companies – are moving ahead as quickly as possible to develop, design, fund, and implement clean water projects.
The lack of care in these stories can be seen in the facts they get wrong. For instance, they neglect to inform readers that it was always anticipated that less would be spent in the early years on certain types of projects – such as retrofitting existing developments with stormwater controls – as regulatory drivers are put in place, and more would be spent in later years. More importantly is the fact that neither I, nor the governor, nor anyone in his administration, have called for spending less money on clean water. Further, the articles ignore that the actual spending on clean water is increasing year-over-year, not decreasing – there was a full 70 percent increase in clean water funding between FY17 and FY18.
We do have an obligation to put funding to work with appropriate management and oversight. Taxpayers expect, and rightly so, that their money will be invested in our water environment as quickly as possible, but also in a way that ensures it is spent effectively and with accountability. That is our great challenge.
Vermonters may remember President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, and the search for “shovel-ready” projects to fund. We face a similar challenge in lining up projects which are ready to go to construction. Although we understand where many of the water quality needs lie across our landscape, it takes time to develop the expertise and resources in both public and private sectors necessary to implement projects in accountable ways and to ensure we will be measuring what we get for our money. That is what I have been, and am, advocating for – a realistic, practical and effective long-term strategy – and what was unfortunately misrepresented as a desire to slow down spending on the cleanup of Lake Champlain and other waters.
Together, through the course of decades, even centuries, of living, building and farming on Vermont’s landscape, we created the problems in our waters. And it will take time – measured in years, not weeks or months – to correct those problems. Ensuring that we are laying the proper foundation is essential. We will, and we are, getting it right. That is a strength, not a weakness.
Unfortunately, the incorrect narrative has taken on a life of its own. I have heard from many involved in the great effort to restore our waterways – including those who sometimes disagree with us over the best way to achieve our mutual goals – about how frustrated they are by this mischaracterization. More worrisome is that these inaccurate stories may be weakening Vermonters’ resolve to take on this monumental task.
I will not let that happen. So, I urge those readers who are concerned to get involved, and learn the real story of what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why. Come to a public hearing on the issue, or look at the documents we have gathered related to clean water funding here: anr.vermont.gov/about/special-topics/act-73-clean-water-funding. See for yourselves what progress we are making, and what work lies ahead.
Julie Moore is the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.