Tag Archives: lake champlain

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

Congrats to Our 2018 Vt. STEM Fair Winners!

Here’s an annual event all at GMWEA look forward to. It’s fun, informative, and always leaves us with an optimistic vision of the future.

On Saturday, March 24, we sent a panel of seven special judges – GMWEA board officers, staff, association members, and a family member or two — to the annual Vermont Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fair.

Our goal was to seek out the best student research projects of the year and encourage K-12 inquiry into water quality science by giving scholarship awards to the most promising investigators.

Hosted each year by Norwich University, the show features exhibits by about 200 middle school and high school students from throughout the state, all of them winners of their schools’ science (and tech, engineering, and math) project competitions. We were pleased to see so many focused on water quality, and choosing winners was not easy for the judges!

Our awards were based on the relevance of the subject matter to water quality, the merit of research, quality of exhibit, and enthusiasm for and commitment to the field.

Congratulations to our five winners and to the teachers who worked with them to produce such excellent projects and results!

Sunthoshini Premsankar impressed us with “Neutralization of Pharmaceutical Pollution in Lake Champlain.”  She tackled this difficult — and too-seldom addressed – issue with an experiment on the effect of acetaminophen on duckweed, testing alternate absorbents and measuring results with chromatography. Sunthoshini, a 9th-grader at Champlain Valley Union H.S., received our $150 scholarship prize.

Christina Gregory also won a $150 scholarship prize for “Pond Regulation.”  This  complex project dealt with the integrity of a local pond not only in terms of ecosystemic viability, but in terms of the regulatory environment that does, or should, control human impacts on our surface waters.  Christina is in 11th grade at Windsor schools.

James Stephens, a 10th grader at Northfield High School, won a $100 scholarship for “The Efficacy of Different Water Purification Methods.”  James investigated the relative merits of ceramic filters, carbon filters, boiling, and distillation, focusing on conductivity, pH, and turbidity, and presented persuasive research methodology and a fine display.

Brooke Rouse looked for a different approach to water filtration: She compared coagulants derived from (plant-derived) moringa oleifera seed and aluminum sulfate in their ability to affect water’s turbidity and pH. Brooke, in 7th grade at Milton Middle School and a student of Rob Decicco, won a $50 prize.

 

Philip Skidd’s exhibit “Don’t Get Clammy Over River Pollution,” also won a $50 prize. His research explored the potential for freshwater clams to absorb nitrates, ammonia, and phosphate, thereby reducing saturation levels in natural waters.  Philip is in 7th grade at Mater Christi School in Burlington.

Winners, parents, teachers, and friends, we’d love to hear from you – please comment on this post!

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here.

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