If you happened to be hanging around Fort Cassin Point on Christmas Eve, perhaps you noticed an unusual smell. Perhaps not; but I sure hope you didn’t drink the water.
The State of Vermont legally permitted the City of Vergennes to dump 467,000 gallons of sewage and stormwater into Otter Creek and Lake Champlain on Christmas Eve. Ho ho ho.
That lovely tidbit from the Facebook page of our friends at Lake Champlain International. In case you have trouble visualizing 467,000 gallons of sewage and stormwater, LCI helpfully points out that it’s equivalent to “about 65 tractor-trailer milk tankers.”
Mmmm, good. I hope the critters at the Fort Cassin/Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area didn’t mind the state’s creative “Wildlife Management Through Sewage” technique. Or perhaps they’ve gotten used to shipments of Vergennes’ untreated crap, since state regulation of sewage and stormwater discharges is downright laughable — especially for a state with such a strong, and often unwarranted, reputation for environmental purity.
The comments on LCI’s post are often endearingly innocent: “How could this happen?” “How is this allowed?” Stuff like that.
Well, not only is it allowed, but it’s standard operating procedure in our Clean, Green state.
James Ehlers, executive director of Lake Champlain International, …says sewage spills and overflows from Vermont’s wastewater treatment systems are common occurrences.
But the public is only notified when they’re exceptionally large, as was the case in April 2005, when a Burlington sewer line ruptured, spewing millions of gallons of raw sewage in the Winooski River for days before it was repaired.
That, from a July 2013 piece by Seven Days’ Ken Picard, outlining the appalling sketchiness of state policy on releases of stormwater and sewage. By law, he writes, the state is required to post online any illegal discharge that “may pose a threat to human health or the environment” within 24 hours of learning about it — but it may take days or even weeks for the state to learn of a discharge from a municipal wastewater treatment operator.
And while the state is required to post the information online, just try to find it. I tried, and got thoroughly lost in a morass of bureaucratic jargon.
Now, if there’s a torrential downpour, just about any system will be overloaded. But many of Vermont’s municipal systems are outdated. We haven’t faced the issue because, well, we can’t afford to.
This is part of our decades of noncompliance with the Clean Water Act regarding Lake Champlain, and one reason why the EPA has had to step in and force Vermont to clean up its act.
It’s sad, if not surprising. Too often, Vermont fails to live up to its own self-image. We react with horror when new things seem to pose a threat, like ridgeline wind and the Vermont Gas pipeline. We’re much more passive about the bad things we’ve always done, like inadequate water treatment, unregulated junkyards, and the discharge of particulate matter from thousands of residential woodstoves. (The latter is largely responsible for our highest-in-the-nation rate of adult asthma. Not West Virginia or Texas; good old Vermont.)