Message from DEC Commissioner David Mears
I want to thank Friends of Waterbury Reservoir for their leadership and engagement in the constructive public dialogue that occurred over the past several months up to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision to issue a water quality certification on December 11.
This water quality certification addresses the water quality impacts of the future operations of Green Mountain Power’s Waterbury Hydroelectric Project. Under this decision, the Waterbury Reservoir will be maintained at the current summertime level year-round, and flows will be managed to more closely mirror the natural flow of the Little River. The Department's water quality certification ensures that dam operations are conducted in a manner that protects fishing, swimming, boating and other recreational uses of both the Waterbury Reservoir and Little River. The decision also ensures that the dam will continue to serve its primary purpose of flood control.
I am pleased that we issued a water quality certification that meets our obligations to protect water quality, while ensuring continued access for the recreational uses of the Waterbury Reservoir and the Little River loved by so many Vermonters. This was not, however, an easy decision. The Department was called upon to set conditions for the operation of the project based on a complex set of technical engineering and scientific issues, with consideration given to a wide range of competing interests.
When I became Commissioner of the Department, the Department’s approval process had already taken over a decade. That length of time was not satisfactory to anyone: the dedicated professionals in my Department; Green Mountain Power; nor the large number of interested groups and individuals with a stake in the outcome. At the same time, we knew that we could not rush this decision and that we needed to engage in a public dialogue about the issues. We decided to hold an informal public comment process in addition to the formal notice and comment process required by statute. With the help of Friends of Waterbury Reservoir and other groups, we were able to get the word out and had great participation, both in terms of turnout for the public meetings, one in October and one in December, and also in the submission of written comments. This process demonstrated, once again, the deep value that Vermonters place upon protecting our natural resources, and their commitment to engaging public officials through the democratic process and civil discourse.
While we were not able to accommodate everyone’s interests, we received excellent comments and suggestions. With the information and perspectives provided by citizens, scientists and advocates, the Department has now issued a decision which meets our legal obligations under the Clean Water Act to improve the water quality of the Little River and reservoir. Our decision also recognizes the primacy of the need to ensure that the dam can serve its flood control purpose, allows Green Mountain Power to generate clean, renewable energy, and protects continued recreational use of the full reservoir in the summer including access by water to both state parks.
The full water quality benefits of the new water quality certification conditions will not, however, be completely realized until certain improvements to the dam are complete. This will require state and federal funding and the cooperation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Green Mountain Power also has certain obligations relating to the operation of the hydroelectric components in the dam. My Department is already taking steps to ensure that we make timely progress on these steps and I look forward to working with the Friends of Waterbury Reservoir as we tackle this significant challenge.
Sincerely, David Mears
Commissioner, VT Dept of Environmental Conservation