Statement of Catherine L. Hill, Northeast Regional Hydrologist, United States Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior
before the Subcommittee on Water and Power Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on S. 2054, "Vermont Water Resources Study"
March 30, 2006
Madam Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Catherine L. Hill, Northeast Regional Hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). I thank you for the opportunity to provide the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) on S. 2054, a bill to conduct a Vermont water resources study.
The Department agrees that the goals of the bill are commendable but has concerns with the bill. We note that studies similar to this have been done by USGS in other States, generally carried out within the USGS Cooperative Water Program, which is a long-standing cost-sharing program using Federal and State funds. Given the existing authorities for our Cooperative Water Program, congressional authorization of this study is not necessary.
S. 2054, Vermont Water Resources Study
S. 2054 directs the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director of the USGS and in coordination with the State of Vermont, to conduct a study on water resources in the State of Vermont. The role identified for the Department in this bill is consistent with USGS's leadership role in surveying and characterizing ground-water resources.
The bill requires a survey of ground-water supplies and aquifers available for water supply by municipalities throughout the State, as part of a study to determine whether these supplies provide water of potable (drinkable) quality.
The USGS has a long history of conducting ground-water assessments on both local and regional scales. In the 1950s and 1960s, studies were conducted across the Nation to provide a basic understanding of geohydrologic conditions at a county-level scale. In the 1980s, 25 regional aquifer systems were studied in detail, including the aquifer systems in Vermont. However, these studies provide a regional and national context of ground water that are often not detailed enough for State and municipal needs.
As stated, the goals of the S. 2054 can be met through existing authorities, and many related activities are being implemented on the ground in Vermont. USGS has been actively working with the Vermont Geological Survey in the creation of a new bedrock geologic map that is scheduled to be completed in the next few years. This new geologic map will provide a variety of information that can be used to help define ground-water availability and quality. Map information will include bedrock types that may be correlated with high yield wells or bedrock types that may be associated with natural contaminants (for example arsenic or radon). In 2003, USGS provided information on possible approaches for ground-water assessment and aquifer mapping to the State of Vermont for a report to the State Legislature on the status of ground-water and aquifer mapping. In this report, a plan for future statewide ground-water and aquifer assessments was presented. This document provides a foundation for how work proposed by this legislation could be performed.
The USGS has extensive databases that would provide useful information in evaluating potential ground-water resources in Vermont. These databases include the location and characteristics of most mineral occurrences throughout the United States; geochemical characteristics of rocks, soils, stream sediments, and water; long-term ground-water level and stream flows; and water-use and well inventories.
The USGS also has a number of on-going studies that relate to ground water in Vermont. USGS, through the Mineral Resources Program and in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is determining the water quality effects of three abandoned mines on local streams and ground water. Another USGS study, in cooperation with the Vermont Geological Survey, is looking at the radionuclide content of wells in the Barre West and Montpelier quadrangles. USGS is also analyzing the presence of arsenic in bedrock wells throughout New England as part of a project with the National Institutes of Health. This work will identify the probability of bedrock wells having detectable levels of arsenic. In addition, through the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program, we are evaluating how radon and uranium vary from aquifer to aquifer in the northern portions of the United States, including Vermont.
In New Hampshire, USGS has already performed statewide surficial and bedrock aquifer mapping and characterization. This work, conducted through the USGS Cooperative Water Program, occurred in the 1980s and 90s and now serves as the benchmark for ground-water characterization in the State and is the basis for State and local planning and resource protection programs. We envision that a statewide aquifer mapping and ground-water characterization effort in Vermont would be similar in many respects to the New Hampshire effort.
Ground water is the source of water for two-thirds of Vermont's residents. From 1950 to 2000, the amount of ground water used in the State is estimated to have increased by at least 60 percent. While Vermont is blessed with a major surface-water supply source in Lake Champlain to serve its largest cities, most communities, businesses, and homes away from the Lake rely on ground water for their water supply.
The proposed legislation also requires an assessment of how ground water recharges and interacts with surface water. This is critical because ground water can be a major source of water for streams, especially in headwater areas. Vermont's rivers and streams are an important natural resource - providing habitat for its trout and other fisheries and supplying flows to its many lakes and ponds. As stated previously, USGS is currently working with the States to provide a better understanding of ground-water aquifers, the areas that contribute to both ground- and surface-water systems, and how current and future water demands could influence these systems, will help decision makers ensure that sufficient supplies are present for the multiple uses of Vermont's water resources.
In conclusion, the USGS concurs with the goals of the bill to meet Vermont's need for a detailed ground-water assessment and aquifer mapping program, but notes that there are already ongoing efforts to address these goals. Such an effort would help ensure long-term water supplies for its citizens, businesses, industry, and natural features. However, we feel that such a proposed study would take 5 or more years to complete and that the 2-year time frame for completing the study would not yield comprehensive results. We recommend that studies of this type be conducted under the USGS Cooperative Water Program, through a cost-share arrangement. The USGS looks forward to working with the State of Vermont, particularly the Vermont Geological Survey, in future ground-water resource and aquifer studies.
Thank you, Madam Chairman, for the opportunity to present this testimony. I will be pleased to respond to questions you and other Members of the Subcommittee may have.