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Editorial: Rutland, Montpelier must clean up its waste water flowing into the lake

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Posted on January 29, 2018 |
By Angelo Lynn



If clean water is a goal all Vermonters share, then Rutland seems slow to take up the challenge of addressing a water-sewage treatment system that is the biggest culprit for dumping wastewater overflows into the Otter Creek, which then runs into Lake Champlain at Porter Bay carrying huge volumes of pollutants.

Lake Champlain International reported after last week’s rains and warm spell that swamped several municipal water-sewer systems, that Rutland’s system overflowed four times last week alone and contributed to the 475,000 gallons of combined sewage overflow into the Otter Creek in the 11 days prior to this past weekend.

So far in 2018, there have been a total of 24 combined sewage overflow spills from municipal wastewater treatment plants contributing a total of 3,027,000 gallons of pollutants running into Lake Champlain. Of the six worst community offenders, Rutland is at the top of the chart with 16 spills, followed by Montpelier with six, Middlebury with two, and Saint Albans, Vergennes and Burlington with one each.

In 2017, there were 145 combined sewage overflow spills totaling 8,657,890 gallons. Rutland led all polluters with 85 spills, followed by Montpelier with 42, Middlebury with seven, Saint Albans with six, Vergennes with three and Burlington two.

Combined sewage overflows are not 100 percent sewage, but rather comprised mostly of storm water run-off — about 90 percent of such displacement is storm water. But that leaves about 10 percent that is sewage flowing into Otter Creek and into in to Lake Champlain. That’s still a big number, translating to 86,570 gallons of sewage entering the Otter Creek basin and dumping that waste into the lake just in the first 20 days of January. That’s also the type of waste that raises e-coli levels from fecal matter and closes beaches, while also making swimming, boating, fishing and recreating in the Otter Creek much less enjoyable than it otherwise would be. That’s particularly concerning for residents of the Tri-Town Water district (Bridport, Addison and Shoreham) who get their drinking water from Lake Champlain.

It’s also important to note that such dumping of CSO is a violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act, and yet no fines have been filed against Rutland — perhaps because the fix (replacing the plant) is no small task and expensive.

Yet, Vergennes is currently busy addressing the problem and planning a strategy to separate the storm water overflow system from the sewage system (as have other towns such as Burlington). Rutland, on the other hand, has yet to undertake such an initiative in any meaningful way.

We urge our friends to the south to become more engaged, in particular to the effect their CSO has on the Otter Creek and the Otter Creek Basin area that flows into Lake Champlain, and become a part of a more active solution. We’re confident the residents of Rutland enjoy recreating in clean water and don’t want to be the major cause of water pollution in the Otter Creek and the southern end of Lake Champlain, but they have to get their message to their town leaders and pressure them to make it a priority. Surely if the city undertakes the challenge, the state will pitch in what it can, and even Trump may make money available through an upcoming infrastructure bill that — one might imagine — will first go to those projects that are spade ready and have a clear and direct impact on the public good.

Montpelier is also high on the offender list, dumping its wastewater into the Winooski, which runs headlong into Lake Champlain at the northern end of Burlington.

While water pollution is a concern for all municipalities, Rutland’s volume and frequency of discharging its storm waste water in this manner is double that of the second worse offender and 12-15 times worse that of the other four offenders in this basin. That’s a huge difference, and shows how far behind the times Rutland and Montpelier are in their efforts to control this type of water pollution.

As the state seeks ways to address the state’s significant water quality issues, one very obvious need is for the state to work with Rutland and Montpelier to find a quick answer to these two straightforward problems. The solution is well known; now all we need is the political will to make it happen.

— Angelo Lynn

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