Burlington responds after wastewater spill into Lake Champlain

By Chapin Spencer

Lake Champlain helps make our communities a special place to live.

It has been our priority to steward Burlington’s natural assets for our residents, our neighbors and future generations.

We have suffered recent unfortunate infrastructure challenges at our Main Wastewater Treatment Plant – including a recent discharge of approximately 2.9 million gallons of storm water mixed with about 150 thousand gallons of wastewater. All of this water was treated – having gone through a solids-removal process – but due to the failure of a computer system was not disinfected. This did mix with fully disinfected water, leading to some residual disinfection.

None of this excuses our infrastructure challenges as one gallon of non-disinfected discharge is too many. That is why we have actively taken steps to fix it.

In the short term, we have hired a national wastewater expert to assess our plant’s biological treatment system, and will be hiring a firm to evaluate the computer control system and another to review the rest of the disinfection systems.

We have also expanded staffing plans during off-peak storm events at the plant. We will be bringing an infrastructure plan with projected costs forward to the public and our City Council later this year.

In addition, we continue to install storm water infrastructure around our city while also pursuing a proactive permitting strategy requiring extensive storm water capture from new developments. More details on Burlington’s efforts on water quality can be found online at burlingtonvt.gov/DPW/Water-Quality-History.

As the July 19 report by Mike Donoghue points out, we pledged transparency to the public and will continue to keep that commitment. We have recently been before Burlington’s City Council and the Burlington Public Works Commission to discuss these infrastructure challenges and organized a press conference the day of the discharge to inform the public through the media.

We plan to continue the conversation with you directly. Please join us on August 2 during Vermont Clean Water Week to meet our Water Resources staff, while they lead tours at our Wastewater Treatment Plant and Drinking Water Plant and around some of the storm water upgrades we’ve installed.

Email Rgoulding@burlingtonvt.gov for additional details.

Later this summer, we will be hosting “A Community Conversation on Water Quality” to talk about our interrelated water systems and answer questions from you. Details will be posted soon at burlingtonvt.gov/dpw. All are welcome.

Chapin Spencer is Director of Burlington Public Works

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