Vermont Voters to Consider Upgrades to Drinking Water System

On Election Day, voters in nine Vermont communities will be asked to weigh in on the future of their drinking water supply.

The Champlain Water District is made up of Colchester, Essex, Essex Junction, Jericho Village, Milton, Shelburne, South Burlington, Williston and Winooski.

The roughly 75,000 Vermonters in those communities account for about 12 percent of the state's population.

"There's a lot of different components that need to line up perfectly to have people get safe water 24/7/365," said Jim Fay, the general manager of the Champlain Water District.

CWD pumps water from Lake Champlain, filters and treats it, then provides the clean water wholesale to the municipalities.

On ballots, special questions will ask voters to authorize CWD's publicly-elected commissioners to borrow up to $6,250,000 for three different upgrades.

One project is a new, 600,000 gallon storage tank to replace one in Williston that is old and smaller than the community’s need.

The second is to construct a new filtration system and chlorine contact tank at CWD’s South Burlington headquarters to back up an aging unit whose foundation is showing cracks.

The third part of the proposal is to improve a major transmission line that pumps much of the district's 9.5 million gallons of water a day.

The work can be completed, CWD said, at no impact on wholesale water rates charged to cities and towns, because the new jobs have been timed to start just when old loans will be paid off.

"I have enough debt retiring that we can add over $6 million worth of new debt with no impact at all on rates to the customers," Fay said.

"It's very important," Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire said of the proposed upgrade to the water storage tank in town. "We need the additional capacity to adequately serve the community."

McGuire noted that he has heard of some voters being confused about the nature of the bond request, and that they have thought this may drive up property taxes.

"It has no impact whatsoever on property taxes," McGuire said, aiming to clear up that apparent confusion.

In a presidential election year that's seen voters bombarded with new information from campaigns, and even suffering from fatigue from ever-changing revelations, the local water issue has gotten comparatively very little attention.

"I hope the negativity in voting for many elected offices doesn't go to the end of the ballot and there's negativity toward investing in your drinking water supply," Fay said.

Fay indicated the work will need to be done eventually, and said waiting longer could mean prices would rise even higher.

Voters will have the final say, when they cast their ballots Tuesday.

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