Tag Archives: Vermont League of Cities and Towns

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 atrazine – 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 atrazine) — 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.

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