DPW Briefing on Lake Champlain Water Quality

This summer has seen several instances of wastewater outflows in to Lake Champlain, including an incident this week following a strong thunderstorm.

RELATED: Public Works’ Statement on July 10th Wastewater Treatment Plant Discharge

As part of their efforts to keep residents informed about this issue, last month, the Department of Public Works(DPW) released a briefing outlining the history of our City’s efforts to combat stormwater runoff and how the City continues to address this issue. Highlights from the DPW Briefing Include:

  • Burlington’s Main Water Treatment Plant was built in 1953 with the North Plant and Main Street Plan being added in 1961 and 1963 respectively. The system has been updated numerous times to allow for greater capacity in the years since. Before 1953, Burlington discharged untreated waste in to Burlington Bay, Englesby Brook and the Winooski River
  • Like many older cities, Burlington combines sanitary waste and stormwater flows in the same pipes. Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO’s) occur when the capacity of treatment plants is exceeded and is discharged into water bodies. To fully separate waste and stormwater flows would cost well over $100,000,000.
  • As an alternative, Burlington prefers to create green wet-weather infrastructure which manages stormwater, reducing the number of CSO’s while adding more green space, shading and pedestrian/biking improvements
  • Burlington’s Wastewater Treatment Plants have been updated to increase capacity several times over the years. The main plant has a current dry day capacity of 5.3 Million gallons per day.
  • Burlington has five remaining untreated Combined Sewer Overflows, which are monitored by DPW. This year DPW purchased permanent flow meters in these locations which they are in the process of installing.
  • Recent beach closures have been the result of the Pine Street untreated CSO. This location was discovered in 2015. This location now has a permanent flow monitor and is the prime focus of the City’s Integrated Water Quality Planning.
  • A 2009 update to City ordinances dictates that any project that disturbs more than 400 sq. ft. must be reviewed for stormwater impacts. A number of recent projects have greatly contributed to mitigation efforts including: Investors Corporation of Vermont’s building at 180 Battery Street, Redstone’s redevelopment at 237 North Winooski Ave., Bright Street Cooperative’s development, and UVM’s Waterman Hall drainage efficiency project.
  • Large scale developments are required to manage their stormwater flows. CityPlace Burlington, Cambrian Rise and 85 North Avenue will all manage 100% of all new and existing stormwater runoff.
  • The City’s Water Resources and Integrated Planning Team is spearheading work to solve this issue and has already developed a comprehensive wet weather map to target stormwater reduction opportunities, developed a list of non-structural strategies to reduce runoff, and evaluated enhanced phosphorus removal technologies to aid already successful phosphorus removal procedures.

Protecting Lake Champlain is of the utmost importance to the future of Burlington. City officials are working to address this issue and prevent future CSO’s. In a press release yesterday Mayor Weinberger stated he has directed DPW to, “immediately devote every available resource, including outside experts, to fully investigate the causes of the recent mechanical discharges and to immediately implement fixes.”

In the meantime, people should remember that the Lake is safe to enjoy this summer. While signs are posted at South End beaches, residents and visitors should know that this is purely a precaution. Testing after these incidents show there has been no significant rise in the level of bacteria in the lake and are well below EPA limits.