Environmental groups oppose permit for Rutland County sewer plants

By on September 9, 2021 0
Rutland Wastewater Treatment Tanks
Air is pumped through filtered wastewater to aid microbial activity at the Rutland Wastewater Treatment Facility in 2018. Photo by Mike Dougherty / VTDigger

RUTLAND – Environmental groups say the Natural Resources Agency’s pending permits for wastewater treatment plants in Rutland County do not go far enough to tackle pollutant-laden overflows in waterways local.

Permits are currently pending for processing plants in Rutland, Pittsford, Wallingford and Brandon. The public comment period for permits ends on September 10.

Stormwater and wastewater from the Town of Rutland, as well as areas of the Town of Rutland, Mendon, Killington and Clarendon, are treated together in a combined Rutland sewer system. When it rains heavily, relief valves open to prevent water from backing up streets and homes, sending untreated waste into Otter Creek.

“Combined sewer systems do not reflect the capacity of the wastewater treatment facility to treat sanitary wastewater, but rather a reflection of the engineering approach used for stormwater management during construction. collection ”, Amy Polacyzk, head of the Agency’s wastewater program. resource, said at a public meeting on permits last week.

Landfills are common in Rutland. In August, the Rutland Sewer Plant was the source of eight of 11 combined sewer overflows caused by wet weather in the state. In total, nearly 180,000 gallons of untreated garbage dumped into Otter Creek that month.

Environmentalists are concerned about phosphorus, a nutrient that accumulates in Lake Champlain and causes blue-green algae blooms, some of which are toxic. They are also concerned that the overflows contain pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, E. coli and PFAS, a chemical group of growing concern globally, all of which can be harmful to nature and human health.

Climate change is likely to exacerbate the impacts of these overflows at both ends of the process: increased precipitation could pump more water into the system, causing more overflows. In the lake, increased hot and dry periods can promote algae blooms. Vermont has experienced both droughts and extreme rainfall over the past year.

However, overflows from combined sewer systems only account for 3% of Lake Champlain’s phosphorus load, and factory upgrades cost millions of dollars. Rutland City has been working on several projects to upgrade the facility, and officials said they may need an additional $ 40 million to fully upgrade the aging system.

With an influx of federal money from both the American Rescue Plan Act and possibly the upcoming infrastructure bill, environmentalists at last week’s meeting said now might be the best time. to invest in these facilities.

In a public hearing on September 2, requested by the Danby-based environmental organization Vermonters for a Clean Environment, members of several environmental groups urged the Natural Resources Agency to make the permits more restrictive.

John Brabant, director of regulatory affairs for Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said the organization believes state officials know the discharges at the Rutland plant violate Vermont drinking water standards, but because that solutions are beyond immediate reach, they allow violations to take place.

The Natural Resources Agency “must recognize the problems with the design and operation of this and other similar plants and, as previously noted, include actual licensing requirements that will result in improvements to the plant. plant and plant infrastructure within a reasonable time (but not more than five years) for the plant to achieve consistent compliance, ”says Brabant’s written public comment.

The number of combined collection systems in the state has increased from 29 to 13, Polacyzk said. In 2020, the total number of combined sewer outlets, or locations where overflows flow into a waterway, increased from 178 to 49, she said.

Polacyzk said on Thursday that every system remaining with combined sewer overflows must have a long-term control plan, which must include timetables and funding plans and “establish minimum technology requirements and detail how the municipality will put its CSOs in place. in accordance with Vermont water quality standards.

The state has spent more money tackling phosphorus from wastewater than any other industry – $ 61.2 million in the past five years – according to figures from the state’s Clean Water Performance Report, released earlier this year.

“It costs around $ 2 million to eliminate a single discharge point as a general estimate,” Polacyzk said at Thursday’s meeting. “Engineering varies greatly with these. And as you can imagine, in reducing the first 100 outlets and fewer OSCs, these were the easiest, and now the ones that remain are more complex engineering issues to deal with.

Not unimportant

Under the Total Maximum Daily Load on Lake Champlain, a document prepared by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency that outlines pollution standards for the lake and its tributaries, only some of the wastewater treatment plants in the ‘State require reductions in phosphorus.

These plants contribute more than 10% of the phosphorus load of the surrounding watershed. Rutland, which drains into Otter Creek, a river surrounded by farmland, is not required to reduce its phosphorus load, according to a fact sheet released by the Natural Resources Agency with the pending permit from Rutland .

Four-tenths of Lake Champlain’s phosphorus comes from agriculture, and state officials and environmental groups have agreed that changing agricultural practices should be the state’s top priority, as these changes will be less costly and more efficient.

Zack Porter, the Lake Champlain Lakekeeper with the Conservation Law Foundation, said that while the total maximum daily load focused on reducing pollutants from non-point sources, such as agriculture, he demanded more attention on phosphorus reductions in sewage plants.

Several years after the 20-year Lake Champlain restoration plan began, he said he was concerned Vermont was not meeting targets. Diffuse source reductions require voluntary participation, he said.

“It makes sense to me to ask a little more of our wastewater treatment facilities over which we have some control over these non-point source locations,” he said.

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said she was disappointed that local waterways continue to be at risk from the overflows. She counted the number of overflows in Otter Creek since 2015 and said Rutland had 482; Brandon, 12; Pittsford, three; and Wallingford, two. Rutland is the only combined system of the four.

She estimated that of the more than 187 million gallons of sewer overflows that flowed into Otter Creek, those four permits amount to more than 107 million.

“This is not an insignificant amount of contaminants entering our waters,” she told state officials last week.

“These permits look like business as usual,” she said, “and I don’t think we have time for that now. We really need to do a lot better.”

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