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Vergennes Dumped Tons Of Sewage Into Otter Creek In Past Month

Two weeks into the new year, one Vermont wastewater system has already dumped thousands of gallons of untreated sewage into state waterways.

The Vergennes wastewater treatment system discharged 12,700 gallons of untreated sewage into Otter Creek when a mechanical failure caused a pump station to overflow.

City workers manually operated the pump on Sunday into Monday, when an electrician was able to fix the pump.

Mechanical problems due to outdated equipment and a lack of municipal investment in wastewater treatment are not rare in Vermont, where millions of gallons of untreated or partially cleaned water are dumped into state waterways every year.

Many of these releases are unauthorized and can be subject to enforcement action – though such actions are rarely brought. Others, though, are authorized releases of untreated sewage directly into public waterways.

This happens when there’s a surge of flow to a combined stormwater and wastewater treatment plant, such as during a rainstorm, and dirty water comes in faster than the plant can clean it. In such cases, the state authorizes the plants to discharge some of the incoming water into streams, rivers and lakes.

On Christmas eve, for example, the same pump station in Vergennes that had problems this week discharged 467,000 gallons of untreated waste- and stormwater into Otter Creek.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, in his third inaugural address, said water quality will be a major focus of his administration over the course of his term, though much of his focus was on farms and not wastewater treatment. Farms contribute more than a third of the state's phosphorus pollution to Lake Champlain, whereas wastewater treatment facilities are responsible for less than 5 percent.

That incident caused a stir in Vergennes, though it was not a rare one in the state at large.

Vergennes wastewater treatment plant operator Rick Chaput did not respond to request for comment before Wednesday at 3:40 pm.

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