Flushed!

On November 20, WCAX-3’s “News at 5:30” gave viewers an uncomfortable glimpse of what happens when they use their sinks and toilets as trash disposals. Kudos to WCAX for its willingness to show images of “The gross truth about what’s lurking in the sewer.”

Reporter Jennifer Costa interviewed Matt Dow, director of Burlington’s Main, North, and East Wastewater plants. Dow spoke candidly about the difficulty – and cost – of coping with congealed fats in Burlington’s 50 miles of sewer lines and in its treatment facilities.

Dow said the problem is compounded by so-called “flushable” paper-fiber products such as hand wipes, baby wipes, and sanitary pads. Contrary to advertising, they don’t dissolve rapidly, if at all. When combined with the fats, oils, and greases (FOGs) in the system, they can congeal, cause blockages, and impede the process of wastewater treatment.

WCAX’s article is indicative of  growing public awareness about  the problem throughout the country. A quick Google search brings up 300,000 news items about “fatbergs” — a new vernacular term referring to the huge masses of FOGs that too often accumulate in  sewer systems — including over 59,000 videos. Most are public service videos produced by water quality nonprofits and municipal governments, intended to improve public knowledge of the infrastructure beneath their feet and to suggest ways citizens can reduce their contribution to water pollution, particularly FOGs and flushables. (Above: A FOG/”flushable” clog, photo courtesy of Burlington Public Works Dept.)

As public awareness grows, people are starting to take action. “Flushables” are adding such a maintenance burden to public systems – costing the public many millions of tax dollars – that citizens’ groups in New York, Washington D.C., and other cities have launched class action suits against “flushables” manufacturers.

Vermont municipalities can keep the PR momentum going by using their websites and newsletters to inform customers about the problem and to provide tips on solving it. Burlington Public Works Department, for example, provides an online guide to help consumers reduce their FOG output: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/DPW/Grease-Management

It’s time to get the information out there. As Matt Dow summed it up, “People have to care.”

Thanks again to Matt Dow, Jennifer Costa, and WCAX-3! To see the whole feature, go to: http://www.wcax.com/content/news/Flushed-How-what-goes-down-can-really-mess-things-up-458906083.html

As always, GMWEA welcomes your contribution to this blog! If you have questions about or experience with fatbergs and flushables, please leave a comment here.

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here: www.gmwea

A Day Without Water

On October 12, 2017, over 500 organizations and thousands of individuals nationwide will take part in Imagine a Day Without Water. It’s one of an increasing number of water-awareness events seeking to change perspectives about how we use water – and to promote direct action to better manage this crucial resource.

What makes Imagine a Day Without Water different from other initiatives is that it focuses attention less on natural waters and more on water and wastewater infrastructure. It  emphasizes the need to develop the political will and economic capacity to invest in replacing aging equipment and outdated technologies.

The Value of Water Campaign, which has taken leadership in organizing the event, offers a blunt  message:

“Most Americans take the water systems that bring clean water to and from their homes and businesses for granted. They turn on the tap and flush the toilet without thinking twice about where that water came from or where it will go.

“A day without water equals crisis. A day without water means no water comes out of your tap to brush your teeth; when you flush the toilet, nothing happens. Firefighters have no water to put out fires; farmers can’t water their crops. Doctors can’t wash their hands.

“The problems that face our drinking water and wastewater systems are multi-faceted. The infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, having gone underfunded for decades. Drought, flooding, and climate change stress water and wastewater systems. Although regional challenges will require locally-driven solutions, reinvestment in our water must be a national priority.”

The organizers welcome participants and suggest a number of easy ways for organizations and individuals to help support the event: Visit http://imagineadaywithoutwater.org/ for more information.

The Value of Water Campaign isn’t the only effort to work at a national level on water quality awareness and systemic transformation. The US Water Alliance advocates for what it calls a “one water” program:

“The one water approach views all water – drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, grey water, and more – as resources that must be managed holistically and sustainably. Doing so builds strong economies, vibrant communities, and healthy environments.”

The US Water Alliance calls itself “a gateway to connect with resources”; they publish a blog, fund research and print publications, offer awards for significant achievements in water quality, and host a variety of activities. Visit www.uswateralliance.org for more information.

Whether you are a municipal water operator, public works official, mayor, educator, scientist, or just a concerned citizen, making contact with these and other organizations can help you do your job and get the message across.

If you know of other worthy water-related organizations, have participated in prior years’ Imagine a Day Without Water events, or have action suggestions for GMWEA blog readers, please send us your comments! We’ll post them here.

To return to our website, click here: www.gmwea.org.

 

Lake Champlain Aboard the Melosira

Written by Tom DiPietro. Photos courtesy of James Sherrard.

The skies threatened rain, but that did not dampen spirits aboard the Melosira, the University of Vermont’s Lake Champlain research vessel. It was on this cool September afternoon that over a dozen GMWEA members joined UVM Sea Grant staff aboard the vessel for a tour of Lake Champlain. It was a scenic tour — but one with a focus on water quality monitoring and management.

The tour set off near the ECHO Center in Burlington, made a stop above the effluent pipe from the Burlington Main plant, and then headed north to the mouth of the Winooski River before returning to shore. During the tour, GMWEA members learned about some of the sampling conducted as part of research conducted by UVM and Sea Grant. The Melosira’s crew demonstrated use of their CTD (Conductivity Temperature and Depth) meter near the Burlington plant’s effluent pipe and then again at the mouth of the Winooski river. This instrument collects valuable water quality data for researchers as they continually assess lake conditions.

(Left: The CTD meter used by researchers aboard the Melosira.)

In between stops and sampling, UVM Sea Grant staff shared their on-going research efforts with the group. This included discussions on “data buoys” located throughout the lake, phosphorous pollution and blue-green algae, lake sturgeon migration, microplastics in the water column, and the impacts of road salt on the lake.

Also aboard was Joel Banner Baird, a staff writer for the Burlington Free Press. Joel had the opportunity to engage with GMWEA members and also learn a little more about the lake. In the article that he prepared for the Burlington Free Press he recapped, “Lake Champlain is much more vulnerable to terrestrial pollution than are the Great Lakes… The land area that drains into Lake Champlain, measured against the lake itself, is huge compared to the ratio of watershed to water of the Great Lakes. That unusually high ratio means that the consequences of what happens upstream can add up quickly.”

(Above photo: GMWEA members Karen Adams, Chelsea Mandingo, and Tom DiPietro aboard the Melosira.)

The entire article can be found here: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2017/09/09/lake-scientists-launch-lesson-plan-landlubbers/636864001/

The event was well received and the attendees are looking forward to a similar event next year. Special thanks to the Melosira crew, Kris Stepenuck and the rest of Sea Grant team for organizing the event.

If you were also aboard the Melosira, or are interested in Lake Champlain and its waters, please leave a comment on this post!

To return to the GMWEA website, click here: www.gmwea.org

Chris Cox’s Vision for Montpelier’s WRRF

Chris Cox has been in the news a lot recently.

He has earned his fame: He works as chief operator of Montpelier’s Water Resource Recovery Facility, he’s a member of GMWEA’s board of directors, he won the Bob Wood Young Professionals Award for 2015, he’s been featured in newspaper articles and industry magazines, and he inaugurated Vermont’s highly-popular Poo & Brew event in 2016.

Add to all that, he’s chief of a plant that – if Montpelier voters approve a bond to fund it next spring – will receive a $13.5 million upgrade. Chris helped initiate the project and has been closely involved with its development, which will make an already green facility even greener. (Montpelier’s WRRF won the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2015.)

The $13.5 million upgrade has two main components. Five million dollars will go to replacing or refurbishing equipment that is approaching the end of its duty life – tanks, motors, and primary and secondary clarifiers. (Above, Chris inspects some of this aging infrastructure.) The more exciting part is the $8.5 million to be spent to increase the plant’s anaerobic digestion and methane production/processing capacity.

With increased anaerobic digestion capacity, the plant hopes to take in new waste streams and increase its revenue from tipping fees. New feedstocks in the form of dairy industry by-products, brewery and distillery waste, FOGs from restaurants and food products production, and, surprisingly, de-icing agents from airports will supplement typical waste materials. The substantial increase in biogas output can be put to innumerable uses.

Chris is hard to ruffle. He is entirely upbeat about the project: “I’m excited about it. I’ve never been through a major upgrade like this, and I’m looking forward to it.”

How about his staff – are they concerned?  “I am very lucky to have a skilled and motivated staff who are excited and ready to learn,” Chris says. He believes the staff’s attitude and abilities will play a big part in the project’s success.

Won’t construction create disruptions at the plant, or result in service interruptions? No. Chris believes the existing redundancy in all systems will accommodate temporary partial downtimes, with the main impact being some reduction in haulage the plant takes in during construction.

But won’t the new technology require extensive training for staff? Again, Chris isn’t worried. He says the primary contractor, Energy Systems Group, will conduct trainings on site, and his excellent staff is ready to take on the challenge. He himself has done extensive homework on the concepts and technology including reading, vetting technical materials, working with visiting engineers, and consulting other operators in New England who are using similar technologies.

Surprisingly, the additional processes will not require hiring new staff. Chris says that the new systems are highly automated and can run without human assistance.

Chris has a lot of praise for the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee (MEAC) — contact email: netzeromontpelier@gmail.com) — whose enthusiasm and support has accelerated development of the project. MEAC is working toward the goal of making Montpelier a net-zero energy consumer by 2030, and, dependent on feedstock availability, the WRRF could actually contribute to, not draw upon, the city’s energy supply.

One of the best things to emerge from Chris’s fame is the accurate description, in a recent article by Carla Occaso in the Montpelier Bridge newspaper, of his role. While the public too often thinks of wastewater plants only in terms of the occasional CSOs, she describes Chris as “an eco-warrior . . . who speaks of making it his mission to keep pollution out of the watershed.”

Occaso ends her article by quoting Chris on the 24/7/365 job of wastewater management: “This is the ‘boots on the ground’ of saving the environment.”

Here’s hoping Montpelier voters understand the benefit of the project and vote to support it. And congratulations to Chris and to Montpelier for their vision and determination.

GMWEA invites you to share your own experiences with renovation, construction, biodigestion, or other aspects of wastewater plant operation.

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here.

GMWEA Co-Sponsors Clean Water Week

Governor Phil Scott has proclaimed August 20 – 26 as Clean Water Week. It’s a time to celebrate Vermont’s natural waters and the businesses, organizations, and communities working to protect them. GMWEA and dozens of other Vermont organizations will be offering educational (and fun) experiences throughout the state. Learn more at: http://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/cwi/clean-water-week

GMWEA is helping to coordinate a number of open houses at water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities. Tours are free, fun, and are a great way to learn more about the  importance of water quality management to Vermont’s natural waters and way of life.

For a complete list of Clean Water Week events – including water/wastwater plant  tours, water quality monitoring workshops, hydro plant tours, a rain garden tour, flood-resistance workshops, and much more – go to: http://dec.vermont.gov/calendar/list?field_event_type_tid=261&field_event_location_tid=All

Return to/visit our website: http://www.gmwea.org

“Brave Little State” Explores CSOs

On May 5, Vermont Public Radio released a new podcast in its series “Brave Little State,” focusing on the challenges of combined sewer overflows (CSOs).  The feature stemmed from a question offered by Winooski resident Mike Brown, who asked “Why do we have pollution in Lake Champlain, and what can we do about it?”

His question triggered a month-long investigation by reporters Angela Evancie and Taylor Dobbs and resulted in a 28-minute program that describes CSOs – what they are, what causes them, and why they’re so hard to manage – and explores the problem of aging water/wastewater infrastructure.

Led by Jeff Wennberg, Commissioner of Public Works for Rutland City, the team visited one of Rutland’s four CSO outflow stations to learn more about the technologies and practices affecting combined stormwater/wastewater systems. The Rutland system was expanded to limit overflows to about two heavy precipitation events per year.  However, due to changing weather patterns and the growth of the region’s developed landscape, stormwater volume has increased dramatically.  The system now experiences 20 to 30 CSO events per year.

Wennberg, who would prefer to see no more than one every five years, emphasized that his department watches weather reports with extreme vigilance – and, often, extreme anxiety. Even so, he defended combined sewers as doing a superb job, saying that overflows constitute only a tiny proportion of the enormous amount of urban stormwater these systems treat.

Wennberg believes a three-pronged approach is needed to reduce CSOs: “green” infrastructure that encourages infiltration; “grey” infrastructure in the form of large, temporary holding tanks; and “data” infrastructure — technologies capable of rapidly-adaptive responses to unpredictable flow volumes.

As all operators know, it all comes down to “Who’s going to pay for it, and how soon?” Wennberg said.  That question brought the reporters to the Statehouse, where they interviewed Rep. David Deen, chair of the House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee.  Deen explained that declining federal funding has limited the state’s ability to pay for water quality management improvements.

He also said that the state’s “best bang for the buck” would be investment in reducing runoff from agricultural lands and paved surfaces, which contribute the majority of phosphorous pollution.  Dobbs reiterated that CSOs from municipal systems contribute only 4% of Lake Champlain’s phosphorous load.

The feature aired several times during May, and you can hear it in its entirety, or read a transcript, at http://digital.vpr.net/post/what-can-be-done-about-vermonts-aging-sewer-systems#stream/6

Water Quality Day 2017

May 19th, 2017, has been declared Water Quality Day by Gov. Phil Scott.

GMWEA initiated Water Quality Day in 2014 to help increase public awareness of the amazing systems that deliver our drinking water, treat our wastewater,  and manage stormwater.   We usually take these things for granted — turn on the tap, there’s clean water;  flush, and our toilet bowls are empty.  And despite the massive scale of our daily pollution of water, somehow it gets cleaned and our Vermont lakes and streams remain beautiful and swimable.

It may be miraculous, but it’s hardly accidental, and it ain’t easy.

A tremendous amount of money, talent, ingenuity, and determination go into the effort. Our water services are brought to us by sophisticated technology — most of which is underground, out of sight and out of mind — and by a dedicated professional community of water facility operators, scientists, and engineers.  They’re the men and women who are on the job 24/7/365 to keep the water flowing, protect the public health, and preserve the natural environment.

Water Quality Day offers Vermonters an opportunity to meet these people and learn more about what they do.

On May 19, water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities throughout Vermont will offer open houses, where school groups, policy-makers, and area citizens can get a glimpse of how water quality management works.

If you have never toured your local water or wastewater facility, you should — it’s an eye-opening experience!  Visit our website at www.gmwea.org to learn more about Water Quality Day events.

If you have taken such a tour, please leave a comment here to tell us about it!

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Stormwater Manual Training, May 16

GMWEA, partnering with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, will present a training session on Vermont’s new Stormwater Management Manual on May 16, 2017 in Rutland (for details or to register, visit www.gmwea.org).

The manual reflects new policies and reporting requirements — and demonstrates the increasing awareness of stormwater management’s role in preserving our surface waters.

Have you seen the new manual?  What do you think about it?  What can we — Vermont, the nation’s leader in environment protection policy — do better to overcome the challenges of stormwaters overloading municipal water treatment systems?  Please post your comments here!