by Guy Page
Four Vermont municipalities that dump combined stormwater/sewage into Vermont waters have been awarded $10 million in federal funding to fix the problem, the Scott administration announced today.
The communities – Northfield, St. Johnsbury, Montpelier and Vergennes – scored the highest on the severity of their local problem and the quality of their proposed solutions.
Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) occurs during intense or extreme weather events when stormwater runoff overwhelms sewer system capacity. The four municipalities selected by the Scott administration to receive a portion of $10 million in pandemic ARPA funding will implement plans to control sewer overflows.
The Scott administration has come under fire from some environmental organizations for not doing enough to solve stormwater/sewage overflow dumping. Lake Champlain International last year ran periodic updates on the millions of gallons of tainted overflow pouring into Vermont waters (see graphic below). In particular, Scott’s plans to streamline Act 250 regulations for urban development were criticized for failing to address the CSO problem.
Gov. Scott has recommended a total of $30 million in ARPA funding to help Vermont municipalities fast-track planned sewer overflow reduction projects. These projects will decrease pollution in streams and lakes. A total of $10 million was appropriated this year to support these projects, and additional funding is anticipated over the next three years.
Combined sewer systems collect sewage and stormwater in the same pipe before sending it to a wastewater treatment plant. CSOs work well under normal conditions; however, when strong storms hit, runoff from rain and snowmelt can overwhelm a system’s capacity. When this happens, system operators are forced to divert some of the untreated wastewater into lakes and rivers via outfall pipes to prevent sewage backups into basements or onto roadways. Eliminating discharges will improve the water quality of streams and lakes, experts say.
Annual precipitation in Vermont has increased by almost seven inches over the past 50 years. With much of Vermont’s municipal wastewater infrastructure dating to the 1800s and early 1900s, the systems were not built to withstand today’s extreme storms.
Since 1990, Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation has been working with municipalities to eliminate 75 percent of Vermont’s CSO outfall points, reducing the number from 178 to 44.
There are 11 municipalities that still have CSOs. Municipalities have invested millions of dollars since 1990 to control sewer overflows and meet water quality standards. It costs about $2.1 million to eliminate a single outfall.
“This work is extremely expensive. For several years, we’ve been planning a $20 million dollar project to fix Vergennes’ CSO and update our aging water resources recovery facility,” said Ron Redmond, Manager of the City of Vergennes.
The first four municipalities selected for these awards were the highest-scoring projects in the 2022 Pollution Control Project Priority and Planning List, a process the State uses to award infrastructure grants as well as loans.
These awards are part of a larger package of ARPA funding available to Vermont municipalities, businesses, communities and individuals. The Agency of Natural Resources will distribute $100 million over the next three years to make investments in important water infrastructure projects that help protect and restore water quality across the state.