Water Quality

Ric Cengeri / VPR/file

There have been 25 sewage discharges in Vermont in the last 35 days. Many of these discharges were what are known as "combined sewage overflows," where a municipal system is legally allowed to release semi-treated sewage into a water body. These overflows typically occur when a system is overwhelmed during a heavy rainstorm, and differ from spills, which are unplanned.

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Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a new clean water bill into law on Tuesday. In the past, Vermont has focused on cleaning up Lake Champlain, but this legislation targets lakes, rivers and streams throughout the state, including the Connecticut River. And the impact of the law may be felt well beyond the state's borders.

A manhole cover in a brook released up to 10,000 gallons of raw sewage directly into the water last week in Wilmington, town officials say.

“We believe it was a blockage caused by grease,” said John Lazelle, the chief operator of Wilmington’s wastewater system. The sewage flowed directly into Beaver Brook, which feeds the North Branch of the Deerfield River.

Lazelle said such releases are rare and the town has only had “a couple minor ones” of a few hundred gallons in recent years.

Ten thousand gallons of raw sewage flowed from a manhole in Shelburne and eventually into the LaPlatte River on Thursday night and Friday morning, according to a report from city officials.

The LaPlatte River flows into Lake Champlain's Shelburne Bay.

The overflow was caused by a failure in the power supply of a computer in the pump station that’s supposed to monitor the station’s systems and turn the pump on and off as necessary, according to Shelburne wastewater superintendent Chris Robinson.

fotoguy22 / iStock

A power line developer has offered Vermont millions of dollars to lower electricity bills and to clean up Lake Champlain. State officials like the potential windfall, but they say it won’t get in the way of a vigorous review of the project.

Angela Evancie / VPR/file

Strange. Weird. Bizarre. Lawmakers, pundits and lobbyists have used all these words, and more, to describe the past 18 weeks in Montpelier. Amid all the drama, however, the Legislature managed to get some work done.

Angela Evancie / VPR/file

A bill lawmakers say will reduce pollution in Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways is on its way to the governor’s desk. Supporters call the legislation an overdue attempt to improve water quality. But critics worry the funding source could harm the economy.

Angela Evancie / VPR/file

Anyone who owns property in Vermont could soon be on the hook for helping to clean up Lake Champlain and other bodies of water.

Charlotte Albright / VPR

After two years without safe drinking water, the Caledonia County town of Sutton has finally decided to filter and treat water from its contaminated well. The unacceptable levels of nitrates in the water can be highly dangerous to young children.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR/file

A new report from the University of Vermont says Vermonters are willing to pay more – but still not nearly enough – to improve water quality in Vermont.

Water quality challenges in the state are widespread, the report said, not just in Lake Champlain. As a result, the majority of Vermonters are willing to pay more to help solve pollution issues – including the high phosphorus levels that caused unprecedented toxic algae blooms in parts of Lake Champlain this year.

There will soon be new sewer and water lines between West Rutland and Rutland Town. The United States Department of Agriculture  has awarded $2,007,100 in grants and loans to expand municipal sewer and drinking water to parts of West Rutland.

"These upgrades will have environmental, health and economic impacts for hundreds of Vermonters in and around West Rutland," USDA Rural Development Vermont and New Hampshire State Director Ted Brady said in a press release.

You might have heard about these blue-green algae blooms on Lake Champlain. But do you know what they smell like? What causes them? The health effects? VPR reporters Annie Russell and Taylor Dobbs take a field trip to an active bloom in St. Albans Bay to get some answers.

For a map of algae problem areas, check here.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stood at the edge of Lake Champlain Thursday and promised help for its troubled waters.

"This is the sixth-largest fresh water body in the country, and there’s no question that it needs help,” Vilsack said.

That help - $45 million of it - is coming from the USDA over the next five years. That’s the same amount USDA dedicated to Lake Champlain over the previous 10 years, to be given out in half the time.

Conservation Law Foundation Senior Attorney Chris Kilian, seen here observing a cyanobacteria bloom on St. Albans Bay in 2014, says state officials are allowing sewage plants to send more phosphorus into Lake Champlain instead of less.
Taylor Dobbs / VPR File

Pat Caverzasi has had a home on St. Albans Bay for 40 years, and she says the water on the front edge of her property has never been green before.

This year, it is. St. Albans Bay has been green for weeks, covered by one of the biggest blue-green algae blooms there in years.

“Even though they’ve seen blue-green algae and they’ve located a little bit down there,” she said, gesturing to the north end of the bay, “now it’s spread incredibly – it looks like a carpet – it’s really bad.”

State officials lifted a boil water notice in the town of Fair Haven Wednesday, a day after it was declared.

Water samples tested positive for fecal coliform (E. coli) on Monday, causing officials to issue the notice Tuesday.

A positive E. coli test indicates "that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes," according to a release.

Updated August 20 at 4:23 p.m. to reflect that the notice was lifted.

Toby Talbot / AP

The Memphremagog Watershed Association is hosting a panel discussion Tuesday night about what it calls a "tar sands threat to Lake Memphremagog." The discussion has been organized jointly by the Memphremagog Watershed Association and National Wildlife Federation.

"Community members are invited to attend a discussion about an emerging threat to rivers, lakes, and streams in the Northeast Kingdom, including Lake Memphremagog," an event announcement states.

Toby Talbot / AP

When you wash the dishes or flush the toilet, you probably don’t think too much about where that water goes next. Wastewater treatment plants are a critical piece of infrastructure that we usually don’t notice, unless something goes wrong.

Wednesday on Vermont Edition, we look at water treatment plants, and their role in clean water and public health. Our guests are Ernie Kelley with the Wastewater Management Division of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and Ned Beecher with the New England Biosolids and Residuals Association.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

As the state prepares to set a new course for Lake Champlain cleanup, wastewater treatment plants across Vermont continue to dump millions of gallons of polluted water into Lake Champlain and other waterways.

Most of the plant operators responsible for the unauthorized releases aren’t penalized in any way.

“There’s no question that all of the sewage treatment plants in Vermont, at least in the Lake Champlain basin, are going to have to do more to reduce phosphorus levels,” said David Mears, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

State and federal environmental agencies began a series of public meetings this week about a new plan to curb excessive pollution from Vermont into Lake Champlain.

According to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Vermont needs to cut the amount of phosphorus it allows into Lake Champlain by 36 percent.

The meetings mark the beginning of the final phase of a years-long process to develop a plan to clean up the lake.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

The outdoor swimming season may be winding down, but volunteers with the nonprofit organization White River Partnership still have a couple of more weeks before wrapping up a 13th season of water quality testing at popular swimming holes. Volunteers have been testing water quality at swimming holes and the mouths of major tributaries around the White River Watershed every other Wednesday since May 29. Their last day of 2013 testing will be September 18.