Common Ground on Clean Water

Opinion Editorial by Ricky Klein 

I love the Earth because it’s where people live.

This bias is the foundation upon which I build my actions. When I advocate water policies, give testimony on industry standards, write op-eds exactly like this one, I think it helps to know that I care about this planet because it’s where people live.

I am urged to develop a love for the Earth – and ideally all the habitats and inhabitants that it supports – for its own sake. For those who are capable of this mighty feat, bless your blue-green heart. I genuinely believe that the devastation wrought upon the environment is a real and constant pain for you.

I, however, feel a deep love for this planet because it’s the one people live on.

The reason I’m driving home my underlying agenda is that I seem to be one of the only people doing so. There’s a shame associated with having an ulterior motive when it comes to saving the planet. Shouldn’t we all simply want clean water, fresh air, abundant trees, and healthy wildlife for their own sake? Maybe. But it’s not necessary.

Bird watchers, hunters, farmers, residents, tourists, politicians, citizens, members of all political parties, you name it, they all want clean water. Nobody wants to be a polluter.

When I say nobody wants to be a polluter, I mean it. The recent undermining of the EPA was not done with intention that the United States pollute more. The pollution is a horrific by-product of a misguided attempt to support American industry.

This is a non-trivial point: Pollution is incidental, almost never the goal.

Which brings me back to my original agenda: I have a little girl. She is one year old, and cannot go swimming in the lake near our house because the water is toxic during the summer.

I am also a brewer by profession, an industry which relies on high standards of water quality.

I also live next to three dairy farms. I am friends with all of my neighbors, every one of whom sprays manure on their fields and votes for a different party from me. Both of which create a brief but not overwhelming stink in my home.

I also have a staff largely comprising avid fishers and hunters while I am a hiker.

I also live in Swanton where the citizenry resists the removal of a dam that serves no purpose beyond endangering their properties and devastating local fisheries.

Let us take the rare step of looking beyond the immediate issue of water to the end goals of these populations.

The Vermont government is constantly being shellacked for raising taxes on an already highly-taxed population. The problem of waste-water treatment is not particularly sexy and is inevitably very costly.

Many of our incredible legislators are motivated by serving their electorate, which creates a Catch-22 when they are given the conflicting goals of not spending any money and solving problems which, apparently, cost vast sums of money to fix.

How about those blame-ridden farmers?

Dairy farmers live closer to the land than almost any extant population in Vermont. Rain and frost and floods – all forms of water, mind you – impact their very existence.

When your crops have been destroyed and with them your ability to feed your children, there is a depth of shame and sorrow I hope none of my readers have felt. If, then, a whole group of seemingly self-righteous “Eco-Warriors” show up to protest the water leaving their land rather than to help abate the water staying on it, seeds of acrimony have been sewn which will undoubtedly bear fruit.

Fishers, hunters, hikers, kayakers, and bird watchers all essentially want the same thing.

And the residents of Swanton? Call it nostalgia. Call it Yankee Spirit. But don’t imagine for a minute that it’s because the people hate the water.

When we know that the end goal of the farmer is to feed her family, that the politician wants to provide water infrastructure without saddling the taxpayer, that lovers of the outdoors want to get outside to clean, beautiful places, that brewers need affordable clean water to keep our businesses afloat…

When we understand the real end goal, it’s easier to talk about the process. We don’t get hung up by the narcissism of minor differences between dairy and vegetable farmers or hunters and hikers.

I want to take my little girl swimming and keep food on her table. Please help me do that, and I promise to help ensure you can keep fishing, keep farming, keep serving the people of Vermont.


Ricky Klein is the Head Brewer and Chief Visionary Officer at Groennfell Meadery and Havoc Mead in Colchester, members of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. Ricky serves on the VBSR Clean Water Advisory Panel and authored this op-ed for Vermont Clean Water Week 2018.