Category Archives: News & Events

Year of the Waynes

Congratulations to Wayne Elliott and Wayne Graham!!  Both were honored at the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA) Awards Banquet in January, held at the Marriott Copley Place in Boston. The awards were presented in recognition of their dedication and contributions to the wastewater industry.

Left to right: Wayne Graham, Chris Robinson, and Wayne Elliott

Wayne Elliott, principal at Aldrich & Elliott,  Essex Junction, Vermont, received the 2018 Alfred E. Peloquin award.  This award is given annually to an individual who has shown a high level of interest and performance in wastewater operations and who has made a significant contribution to the wastewater field in such areas as improvements to the environment, cost effective plant operations, public relations, innovative process controls, industrial pre-treatment, training, Association contributions and related activities.

Wayne Graham, wastewater specialist at Vermont Rural Water Association, also based in Essex Junction, Vermont, received the 2018 Operator award.  This award is given annually to an individual who has shown a high interest and performance in wastewater operations and has made a significant contribution to the wastewater field.

If you happen to know someone who is deserving of either of these awards, please contact your NEWEA State Director, Chris Robinson, at crobinson@shelburnevt.org.  Nominations close on June 1st.

Contributed by Chris Robinson, GMWEA board member, NEWEA state representative, and water quality superintendent of the Town of Shelburne. Photos by Shannon Robinson.

To return to GMWEA’s website, CLICK HERE.

What’s the Big Idea? (1)

This is the first of a series of posts about big numbers, big systems, and big ideas.

Most water quality professionals don’t have time to worry much about the big picture.  People like facility operators, town managers, and DPW administrators are kept plenty busy treating their allotted gallons per day, fixing busted equipment, eliminating contaminants, completing reports, or searching municipal budgets to find money for maintenance.

But big ideas are crucial.  They provide inspiring visions — or warnings — that can move us to make good choices for the future.  No matter how well disciplined a ship’s crew, or how well maintained its mechanical systems, the first thing a ship needs when it leaves port is a destination.  

When it comes to how we manage water, we need to have the guidance of a larger vision.  We need to have an idea of where we ought to go.

First, we should remember that only about 1% of the world’s water is readily usable for us. That is, it exists as fresh (not salty), liquid (not frozen) water. Then factor in our ever-growing demand for it and our increasing pollution of it.  Obviously, we need a long-term vision for our management of this life-sustaining resource.

Next, we need to update our traditional vision of the “water cycle.”  In grade school, most of us learned a tidy four-part sequence: 1) water falls from the sky as rain or snow; 2) flows into rivers and lakes and oceans; 3) evaporates back into the sky; 4) condenses into clouds and falls again as precipitation.


Where are the homes, office towers, factories, power plants, and farm fields in this old-fashioned schematic?

But now we know there’s another phase in the cycle.  Humanity’s use and pollution of water requires that it go through extensive cleansing processes before it can return to the ground or surface waters, and before we can safely use it again. 

To understand why that’s so, we need a realistic sense of scale – how much water we use. 

Talk about “big!”  In the U.S., our  daily domestic use averages about 95 gallons per day, per person (variable by region).  When we flush, brush, shower, do the laundry, and water the lawn, we use about 32,000,000,000 gallons per day. Where does it all go?

32 billion gallons.  Per day.  Domestic use only. Just in the U.S.

Now consider that domestic use constitutes only about 13%, one-eighth, of the total amount of fresh water we use daily.  We use the other 87% in thermoelectric plants, irrigation, manufacturing, mining, and other functions. 

Not a drop of that water leaves our sinks, toilets, lawns, fields, pipes, or factories unpolluted.  That’s why 53% of America’s river and stream miles, 71% of our lake acres, 79% of our estuarian square miles, and 98% of Great Lakes shorelines are classified as “impaired” by at least one criterion in a 2018 U.S. EPA survey.

If you’re not daunted yet, be sure to read the next post on the bigness of our water infrastructure and the bigness of cost needed to make it work.  Then, on to some inspiring, solution-oriented Big Ideas offered by the U.S. Water Alliance!

Source for data and charts: U.S. EPA: https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water

To return to GMWEA’s website, go to www.gmwea.org.

GMWEA Wins Public Education Grant!

GMWEA recently won a $9,860 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) to help inform Vermont citizens about what we can do to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain. 

We can do a lot – provided we have the right information.

Most of us are familiar with the damaging effects of phosphate pollution, and with the e. coli contamination that sometimes closes beaches.  Unfortunately, our contribution of pollutants doesn’t end there.

Here’s a troubling, but illustrative fact: In a study conducted in 2016 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,  60% to 75% of the male smallmouth bass in the Mississquoi River were found to have both male and female genitals.  Their impaired reproductive function has potentially disastrous effects on the aquatic ecosystem.

Researchers say the deformity is probably due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, particularly those mimicking estrogen, with the lead suspect being the herbicide atrizine – a common ingredient in consumer lawn and garden products.

Unfortunately, weed-killers are by no means the only ecologically-harmful chemicals a typical household contributes. Many can be found in common household products loosely grouped under the name PPCPs – pharmaceuticals and personal-care products.  The average Vermonter flushes, pours, or washes off these pollutants, and they enter the inflows of our wastewater treatment systems.  Some break down and become inert, but too many end up lingering – invisible, but harmful – in our natural waters.

If even our high-tech municipal systems can’t remove them, our only remedy is to  prevent them from entering the water in the first place.  That means we citizens need to learn better habits of product use and disposal.

The LCBP grant, funded by the U.S. EPA and administered through New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Council (NEIWPCC), will allow GMWEA to develop a series of four informational brochures, to be sent to every city and town in Vermont.  Delivered to ratepayers with water/sewer bills, the brochures – along with website/blog postings and other media coverage – will inform Vermont households about how to reduce use of ecosystem-damaging chemicals and how to dispose of them properly. 

PPCPs, such as antibiotics, antimicrobials, antidepressants, birth control pills, skin creams, insect repellent, hair dyes, and laundry products are only part of the problem.  Bacon grease and other kitchen fats clog wastewater pipes and pumps, especially when combined with “flushable” wipes, Q-tips, and tampons, reducing system efficiency and costing money in repairs.  Chemicals used in the garage and yard – degreasers, solvents, antifreeze, fertilizers, insecticides, weed-killers (such as atrizine) — also end up in storm drains or runoff and wreak havoc in rivers and lakes.  

During the next year, every city, town, household, and individual will receive tips on how to avoid polluting our shared waterways.  With this basic know-how, you can cut your input of the damaging chemicals.

Current plans call for the first brochures to be sent in May, and the initiative is expected to culminate in March, 2020.  GMWEA will contact municipal authorities to facilitate distribution in coming months, but if you’re a facility operator, town manager, DPW administrator, teacher, or ratepayer, you’re welcome to contact us sooner.  We’d love your help in getting the word out!

Thanks are due to our fiscal agent, Vermont League of Cities and Towns; to the Lake Champlain Basin Program; to New England Interstate Pollution Control Council; and to the U.S. EPA, original source of the funding.

Note: This post has been edited since its first publication to provide better information on the 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study.

Click here to return to GMWEA’s website.

Wastewater Work, Then & Now

Wastewater treatment operators may be surprised to discover that their job has a long history — a history at once strange and perhaps all too familiar. 

According to an article by Will Hunt in the most recent issue of Archaeology magazine, a team led by archaeologist Roos van Oosten is now researching sanitation infrastructure and practices in the Dutch city of Leiden in the 16th century.  Their finds are changing the way historians view the Middle Ages.

Photo by BAAC Archeology en Bouwhistorie: This 2015 excavation in the center of Leiden is one of several that have exposed centuries-old waste infrastructure.

Van Oosten is digging not just in the dirt and biosolids, but in the red tape that proliferated in relation to sewage back then, just as it does now.  Her work brings her to excavations of both private latrines – so far, she has excavated 104 in Leiden – and early wastewater processing infrastructure. 

If you consider today’s regulations as onerous as the raw material of the industry, you’re probably not the first to feel that way.  Van Oosten’s visits to the city’s archives have found not just extensive regulatory stipulations – with titles such as “Rules and Orders on Privy-Cleaners and Nightworkers” and “Inspection of the Ordinances on the Subject of Privvies” – but actual permits and inspection results.

For one particular almshouse, Hunt notes, “she discovered 34 written permits, each of which describes the cleaning out of a private cesspit by a team of nightmen.  The 400-year-old paper trail reveals a fastidious process,” every step recorded in great detail.  On September 20, 1603, for example, a nightman named Baernt Roberechtsz removed 95 tubs of waste from the cesspit of a widow named Sara de Haen.  The tubs were then carried to a barge by “tub men,” legally bound not to spill a drop into the city canal.

Why “nightmen”? Because by law, septic workers had to work after 10 p.m. “so as not to offend the sensibilities of the citizenry.” They were also required to do so quietly, and could be prosecuted if they were loud, drunk, or sloppy.  Their pay was contingent upon certification that the job had been done properly and with due decorum.

Early sewage transport infrastructure in Leiden. 

By the mid-1600s, Leiden began transitioning to public systems that collected waste via pipes, as nowadays, and processed in bulk.  This was not an easy task – technology was primitive– and the process upset citizens, who claimed it turned the city into a “stink-hole.”  Some blamed a wave of illness and deaths in the mid-17th century on the odors from the new systems, but most likely the cause was cholera.

In some ways, modern wastewater operators are a lot better off.  In some ways – well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

GMWEA Tradeshow, November 8!

It’s almost here!

GMWEA will present its 35th annual Tradeshow and Conference — our largest and most  anticipated annual event — on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, at the Doubletree Hotel & Conference Center, Burlington, Vt.

Don’t miss this event — it’s Vermont’s most important water quality professional development opportunity!

It brings together over 400 water, wastewater, and stormwater professionals, water quality technology and service providers, DPW administrators, staff from water-related nonprofit organizations, State agency administrators, educators, and students.

2018’s keynote speaker, Vt. ANR Secretary Julie Moore, will speak about the challenges facing Vermont’s natural waters and our water quality infrastructure. The tradeshow will feature over 100 exhibitors as well as six technical trainings — see below– presented by renowned experts, a delicious lunch, guest speakers, vendor raffles, and lots of networking opportunities.

The sessions (for full descriptions and registration information, visit https://www.gmwea.org/fall-trade-show.html):

Online Resources at OPR (Office of Professional Regulation), presented by Tara Grenier, OPR’s licensing administration supervisor, and Kara Shangraw, OPR’s license administrator for water/wastewater system designers and operators

Safe Handling, Storage, and Pumping of Water and Wastewater Chemicals, presented by Loren A. Swears, Slack Chemical Technical Applications

Polymer: An Owner’s Manual, presented by Ryan Peebles, New England regional manager, Cleanwaters, Inc.

Basic Math for Water and Wastewater Operators, presented by Matt Guerino, training specialist, Vermont Rural Water Association

Updated Boil Water Notice Policy, presented by Ben Montross, compliance and support services section chief, Vt. DEC Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, and Patrick Smart, DEC, DWGWP Division

Working in Confined Spaces, presented by Raymond Morang, safety, training, and service manager, E.J. Prescott Inc.

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

Senate CSO Hearing Coverage — Just the Facts, Please!

Note: The following was written by GMWEA executive director Daniel Hecht to respond to a segment aired by ABC-affiliate TV station Local22.

Dear Local 22 Newsteam:

Thank you for covering the Vermont Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy hearing on CSOs (combined sewage overflows), at Echo Center, Weds. Sept. 19.  We are glad that this important issue has come into focus for the legislature and the general public.

However, I suggest that Courtney Kramer’s segment over-emphasized certain facts and failed to provide other, more important, details.

I am executive director of Green Mountain Water Environment Association (GMWEA), a nonprofit organization with 500 members – primarily operators of drinking water and wastewater facilities, municipal department of public works staff, and water scientists and engineers – which serves to offer water quality technical education, provide advisory to policymakers, and inform the public about water quality issues.

We agree with Conservation Law Foundation staff attorney Elena Mihaly – prominently featured in the segment — that a sign announcing a beach closure due to e. coli contamination, related to CSO events, is not in accord with anyone’s desired vision of Vermont.

However, the segment devoted too much time to this image and to Ms. Mihaly’s opinions, and too little to the roomful of environmental experts who could have provided important information to your viewers if their comments had been given more time on air.  In short, the segment missed an opportunity to foster a better-informed, more engaged public.

CSOs result from a complex convergence of rainfall volume, rate, and duration, and the infrastructure that attempts to mitigate the harmful effects of human pollution on waterways. Each region faces unique stormwater management challenges, dependent on local geology, waterways, paved surfaces, built environments, and infrastructure legacy – the type, age, and condition of wastewater/stormwater pipes and storage capacity.  There exists no single solution applicable to every location; nor are all  Vermont towns equally able to pay for improvements.

The complete elimination of all combined systems is certainly not a solution.  It is neither economically feasible nor, necessarily, in the best interests of water quality.  Stormwater itself is dirty, carrying animal feces, trash, organic garbage, gasoline, oil, and other harmful ingredients.  Except for the occasional CSOs, combined systems treat this water year-round.  Rutland’s systems, for example, treat 643 million gallons of stormwater yearly – equivalent to the entire volume of Lake Elmore – releasing water that is actually cleaner than the receiving streams!  Even when CSOs occur, the plants are still treating the overwhelming majority of the water, and domestic wastewater  constitutes a very small percentage of the outflow volumes.

Finally, the state and its municipalities are in fact working hard to reduce the incidence and impact of CSOs.  New warning regulations assure public notification within one hour of an overflow, and full reporting within twelve hours, assuring transparency.  The Vermont DEC is requiring the 14 cities and towns with combined systems to create long-term plans.  Cities like Burlington are implementing a range of solutions, such as satellite treatment stations and “green infrastructure” filtration/absorption sites.  New computer monitoring and control technology is coming on line, allowing more agility and specificity in operators’ responses to heavy rains or outflows.

The public should know that the water quality professional community fully recognizes the importance of our natural waters to our way of life, public health, the tourism economy, and the vitality of the environment.  As Karen Horn, director of public policy and advocacy for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said at the end of the hearing, the best approach will be for the legislature to direct prioritization of CSO-related projects through an integrated, multi-sector, multi-agency effort that fully studies the issue and provides all the facts for public consideration.  We hope you will help us pursue that approach through your reporting.

If you would like more information, I invite you to access the collective expertise of GMWEA’s extensive membership; my contact information is below.

Sincerely,

Daniel Hecht

CLF Permit Appeals – A Constructive Approach?

In a letter sent recently to VT Digger, representatives of eight municipalites agreed that the Conservation Law Foundation’s wastewater permit appeals currently in process are neither based on fact nor the best strategy for dealing with phosphorous pollution in Lake Champlain. The letter’s signers include town/city managers, planning and public works directors, water quality superintendents, and stormwater coordinators.

The authors take issue with CLF’s claim that the permits would allow for increases of actual discharges.  In fact, they say, the nine permits challenged “collectively lower the allowed phosphorous releases to the lake by 13,271 pounds per year, or 68 percent below current permit limits.”  Ironically, the nine targeted plants are those that have been most effective at reducung phosphorous releases.

While supporting ambitious efforts to clean up the lake, the authors point out that wastewater treatment plants contribute only 3 percent of the phosphorous flow from Vermont sources; further reductions would functionally penalize wastewater plants that are outperforming their permits!  Meanwhile, phosphorous from agriculture and urban/rural stormwater (much from roads and built environments) constitute 66 percent of Vermont’s infows.

Admittedly, these sources are vastly more difficult to limit.  The letter’s authors suggest that a collaborative approach —  one that acknowledges real priorities, and takes on the hard technological and regulatory challenges these flows constitute — would benefit Lake Champlain more than the permit appeals.

To read the VT Digger letter in full, go to: https://vtdigger.org/2018/08/15/local-officials-clf-suit-unfairly-targets-wastewater-treatment/ 

 

NEWWA Conference $100 Discount Still Available!

GMWEA members now have an exceptional opportunity to participate in one of our region’s most important water quality career-development opportunities.

It’s New England Water Works Association’s annual conference, held this year in Stowe, Vermont.  The four-day event starts on September 16, but you can register – and receive an immediate $100 discount – now!

Don’t wait!  The discounts will be awarded only to the first 20 GMWEA members to register.

New England Water Works Association (NEWWA) will present its annual conference September 16 through 19, at Stowe Mountain Lodge.  Thanks to NEWWA/GMWEA mission-sharing agreements, we are able to offer GMWEA members a $100 discount for registration, whether you register for a single day or the whole event!

In addition to many technical sessions and expert presentations, the conference offers unparalleled networking opportunities for water quality professionals, a region-wide drinking water taste test, recreational activities, and a special town hall panel on PFOAs and PFAs in New England.

Click here to view the entire agenda: http://newwa.org/Portals/6/Events/Annual%20Conference/2018%20Annual%20Conference/Conference%20Program%20for%20Web%202018-05-29.pdf

To take advantage of the $100 discount, current GMWEA members (only!) can register by directly contacting Katelyn Todesco at NEWWA – ktodesco@newwa.org.

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Seven Facts About Water Quality Day 2018

Here’s what you need to know about Water Quality Day, August 3:

1. It has been proclaimed annually by every Vermont governor since 2014 because they feel it’s important for Vermonters to recognize the importance of “working water.”

2. Safe drinking water and clean rivers and lakes don’t just happen. We – the citizens – pollute our water resources with every flush, every load of laundry, every car wash, and that pollution needs to be removed if our natural waters are to stay healthy for people, plants, and animals.

3. We couldn’t live the way we do if our drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater treatment systems – all that equipment and high-tech, operated by skilled professionals – didn’t do their job.

4. They DO do their job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Water quality professionals work hard and with deep commitment because they know we can’t live without clean water.

5. On August 2nd in the City of Burlington, August 3rd elsewhere in Vermont, you can learn more about this amazing, mostly out of sight, publicly-owned infrastructure. We invite you to come to any of the tours/open houses on August 2nd and 3rd to check it out. Tours are FUN, surprising, and educational for people of all ages, and there will be snacks and souvenirs at all locations. 

6. This year GMWEA is coordinating Water Quality Day with the Vermont Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s Clean Water Week. The week features scores of activities, statewide, celebrating our natural waters and the community organizations that protect them. Check them all out at http://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/cwi/clean-water-week .

7. Tours of water, wastewater, or stormwater plants will be offered at the the following:

AUGUST 2

  • Burlington Stormwater: Meet at ECHO Center! Tours start at 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
  • Burlington Drinking Water: 235 Penny Lane. Tours at 9:45 and 2:15.
  • Burlington Wastewater: 53 Lavalley Lane. Tours at 11:00 and 1:00.

For more information on Burlington tours, contact water-resources@burlingtonvt.gov, (802) 863-4501.

AUGUST 3

  • Essex Junction Wastewater: 39 Cascade St.  Tours at 9:30, 11:00, and 1:00. For more information, contact: jim@essexjunction.org, (802) 878-6943 ext. 101.
  • Hinesburg Drinking Water: 149 Shelburne Falls Rd. Tours at 10:00 and 2:00. Contact: ebailey@hinesburg.org, (802)482-6097.
  • Middlebury Wastewater: 243 Industrial Ave.  Open house 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Contact bwells@townofmiddlbury.org. (802) 388-6514.
  • Montpelier Wastewater: 949 Dog River Rd. Tours at 10:00 and 2:00. Contact: ccox@montpelier-vt.org, (802)223-9511.
  • South Burlington Wastewater: 1015 Airport Parkway.  Tours at 8:00 and 12 noon. Contact: bob.fischer@gmwea.org, (802) 658-7964.
  • South Burlington Stormwater: Farrell Park, Farrell Street. Tours at 9:30 and 1:30.  Contact: tom.dipietro@sburl.com. (802) 658-7961.
  • Champlain Water District (South Burlington): 403 Queen City Park Rd.  Tours at 11:00 and 3:00. Contact: mike.barsotti@champlainwater.org. (802) 864-7454.

See you there!

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

$100 NEWWA Conference Discount!

GMWEA members now have an exceptional opportunity to participate in one of our region’s most important water quality career-development opportunities.

It’s New England Water Works Association’s annual conference, held this year in Stowe, Vermont.  The four-day event starts on September 16, but you can register – and receive an immediate $100 discount – now!

Don’t wait!  The discounts will be awarded only to the first 20 GMWEA members to register.

New England Water Works Association (NEWWA) will present its annual conference September 16 through 19, at Stowe Mountain Lodge.  Thanks to NEWWA/GMWEA mission-sharing agreements, we are able to offer GMWEA members a $100 discount for registration, whether you register for a single day or the whole event!

In addition to many technical sessions and expert presentations, the conference offers unparalleled networking opportunities for water quality professionals, a region-wide drinking water taste test, recreational activities, and a special town hall panel on PFOAs and PFAs in New England.

Click here to view the entire agenda: http://newwa.org/Portals/6/Events/Annual%20Conference/2018%20Annual%20Conference/Conference%20Program%20for%20Web%202018-05-29.pdf

To take advantage of the $100 discount, current GMWEA members (only!) can register by directly contacting Katelyn Todesco at NEWWA – ktodesco@newwa.org.

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