A recent commentary in The New York Times titled “The threats to our drinking water” concluded: “When we ignore the weaknesses in our current approaches to safeguarding our drinking water supplies, we take a significant risk. If the sudden absence of drinking water in Charleston (West Virginia) and Toledo (Ohio) serves to refocus the country on the importance of protecting water with a seriousness that reflects its indispensability, that will be a very good thing.” This warning sums up the lessons we should learn from recent events that completely shut down water supplies for hundreds of thousands of people. We need to take protection of our public water sources very seriously.
Montpelier has a single public water source, Berlin Pond. It is already threatened by the proximity of Interstate 89, the perimeter road and nearby septic systems. The pond is small, slow-moving and shallow, providing two of the three ingredients required for the success of algae: warmth and sunlight. Human activity with its resulting trash and food waste, plus the very likely introduction of invasives like zebra mussels and milfoil, could easily tip the fragile balance by adding the third ingredient, nutrients, leading to an algae bloom. Climate change warms not only the air but also the water, and droughts such as the one we had in 2012 lower the water levels and increase the temperature. Both create conditions favorable to a bloom.
There are already environmental and human challenges to Berlin Pond. We must not add another by continuing to allow human activity in and on the water. It has become increasingly clear that swimming, boating and fishing are not compatible with public water supplies, particularly in a small, shallow, slow-moving water body such as Berlin Pond. This water supply must be better protected for the health and safety of all who consume it.
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