Heavier Rains Are Coming – But Are Vermonters Ready?


It’s been a wet summer so far in Vermont. And, according to climate scientists, Vermonters should get used to it – more rainfall and even more intense storms are predicted as a result of our changing climate. But, just because we know what’s to come doesn’t mean Vermont is prepared to deal with it.

To find out just how prepared (or not) we are, CLF is taking a closer look at four municipalities – Burlington, Rutland, St. Albans, and Middlebury – across the Lake Champlain basin. Through a series of public records requests, CLF is investigating how each city’s wastewater and stormwater infrastructure is handling current levels of precipitation and asking whether we’re preparing for the future.

Aging Pipes, Big Storms, and Raw Sewage – A Toxic Combination

One cause of concern is the connection between heavy storms and a spike in the amount of raw sewage flowing into our waters. This yucky problem comes from making high demands on aging pipe infrastructure. Many of our pipe systems are combined sewers, which means they’re designed to carry both raw sewage from homes and businesses to treatment facilities and stormwater that runs off of streets after heavy rains.

Because these pipes are working double duty, they are often not large enough to handle the volume of water flowing through them during big storms. To compensate, these sewage systems are designed to overflow directly into nearby rivers and lakes – meaning raw, untreated sewage mixed with stormwater is dumped right into the same bodies of water where we drink, fish, and swim.

These untreated sewage overflows are called “combined sewer overflows,” or CSOs. With the heavy rains of last week, Rutland City experienced a dozen CSOs, spouting thousands of gallons of raw sewage–tainted stormwater into our waterways just days before the 4th of July holiday weekend. How many families swimming in the lake were impacted by these spills?

Planning for the Future

CLF is asking Burlington, Rutland, St. Albans, and Middlebury how they are tackling their sewage overflows and how they are planning for heavier precipitation expected in the not-so-distant future. Another question on CLF’s mind is how these cities are further expanding and developing without putting excessive constrains on their existing infrastructure.

Every new house or business that is connected to our wastewater pipes adds pressure onto the system. With the added burden from development and climate change, we all need to know if our wastewater treatment plants are capable of filtering out pollutants before this water is released into our rivers and lakes.

Our investigations are just beginning. Stay tuned to our blog and sign up for CLF’s e-newsletter to get updates on this critical work.

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