Aging infrastructure blamed for sewage spills into public waters

Sewage spilled from aging pipes eventually ends up in Lake Champlain. File photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger
More than one million gallons of raw sewage burst from the town of Brandon’s sewage pipes earlier this month and flowed into the Neshobe River, a Lake Champlain tributary, in an accident officials are attributing to aging infrastructure.
Over the span of two weeks, untreated effluent flowed from two separate holes in a 12-inch-diameter sewage pipe that runs parallel to the river.
The pipe was buried and put into service in the 1930s, said Jessica Bulova, supervisor of the wastewater section in the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Watershed Management Division.
“We have aging infrastructure in Vermont,” Bulova said. “We need to be investing in clean water across all sectors.”
“Out of sight is all too often out of mind,” DEC Commissioner Emily Boedecker said. “Whether it is wastewater or drinking water, most of our systems have been installed over many decades.”
‘Out of sight is all too often out of mind,’ said Environmental Conservation Commissioner Emily Boedecker. File photo by Mark Johnson/VTDigger
There are numerous Vermont towns relying on wastewater infrastructure from the 1800s and early 1900s, Bulova said.
This is the second spill this year that sent more than one million gallons of untreated wastewater into public waterways. A mid-January sewage overflow in St. Albans spilled more than one million gallons of untreated wastewater into Stevens Brook, a Lake Champlain tributary that empties into St. Albans Bay.
The most recent spill was the end result of erosion beneath the pipe, by water from the Neshobe River, which runs alongside the pipeline. The erosion exposed the pipeline, Bulova said, which developed holes as a result.
The Jan. 12 spill into Stevens Brook in St. Albans was actually authorized by the state. It was one of 30 “combined sewage overflows” (CSOs) in the state since the beginning of 2018. The overflows usually occur when excessive rain overwhelms a municipality’s wastewater treatment plant, resulting in the plant discharging a combination of rain runoff mixed with raw sewage.
So far this year, Vermont wastewater systems have sent more than 3.2 million gallons of the untreated rainwater and sewage mixture into public surface waters as a result of combined sewage overflows. Most of overflows occurred on Jan. 12, from municipal wastewater systems in Vergennes, Rutland and St. Albans.
The state is gradually upgrading wastewater facilities and infrastructure, in cooperation with the affected towns. Earlier this year the state finalized the municipal pollution project priority rule, which uses a point system to prioritize which projects need to be tackled first, Boedecker said.
Read the story on VTDigger here: Aging infrastructure blamed for sewage spills into public waters.