The Status Quo Won’t Work for Vermont’s Waters

Rebekah Weber

This past summer, there was significant attention paid to the gallons of sewage released into Vermont waterways from wastewater treatment facilities. To keep track of these overflow events, the VT Department of Environmental Conservation (the Department) has created a Waste Water Inventory that charts how much sewage is discharged from which facility on what day. However, many of these data points are best guesses since many facilities lack appropriate monitoring systems.

Many of these overflow events occur after heavy rains because industrial wastewater, domestic sewage, and rainwater are collected in the same pipe. Increased rainfall can overwhelm these combined sewer systems causing the release of wastewater directly into nearby water bodies. Wastewater can contain untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, as well as debris and it contributes to the already-high phosphorus loads in Lake Champlain.

The Department has recently published a draft policy to manage these combined sewer overflows, or CSOs. While this draft represents a much-needed revision – the last CSO policy was established in 1990 – it falls short of the goal of the Clean Water Act that “the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters be eliminated.”

The policy allows polluters to continue to pollute. While the Department has regulated CSOs (ineffectually) for more than 25 years, the draft policy proposes schedules of up to another 25 years to implement control plans. Moreover, because the Department has not effectively monitored CSOs for the past two decades the amount of sewage actually delivered to Vermont water bodies is still unknown.

Vermont’s ailing waters can’t afford to wait another 25 years for the Department to catch up with the law. We all have a right to waters that are safe for swimming, drinking, and fishing. That’s why CLF is fighting to strengthen policies like this one that disguise the status quo as forward action. Read our comments on the Department’s proposed policy and sign up here to stay up to date on this and all of CLF’s work to defend New England’s environment.

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