Tag Archives: Vermont

What’s the Big Idea? (3)

This is the third post in my “What’s the Big Idea?” series — this time, more of a photo essay or info-graphic. There is method to the madness here – I’m working around to the seven Big Ideas developed by the U.S. Water Alliance as part of their One Water policy framework.

But the sheer scale of water and wastewater management is SO huge, and issues of physical scale are SO important to water use and policy (and cost!), I figure readers can use another bigness to grapple with: How much is a million gallons? That number comes to mind because here in Montpelier, Vermont — a town of about 8,000 hardy souls — we use an average of one million gallons of treated water every day.

“A million gallons” is easy to say, but how much is it, really?  Sometimes I think even the drinking water and wastewater people I work with don’t really get it.

Well, everyone knows how big a gallon of milk (or water) is.  Here’s an illustration of one gallon, in the usual plastic jug, with a young man about six feet tall.

Below, here he is again, having just stacked 1,000 of those jugs. I have made every effort to keep the scale accurate — though I admit those jugs put some air between the gallons.

Below, here he is again, with 100,000 such gallon jugs.

And, at last, with one million gallons.

Here in Montpelier, we use that much, on average, every day.  Makes you think about, say, New York City’s one billion gallons per day – one thousand times more.  If you stacked that amount in one-gallon plastic milk jugs, as I’ve done here, it would look about like midtown Manhattan – many dense blocks of skyscrapers.

A whole city-scape poured, drunk, washed with, flushed, and drained — and replaced — every day. Oh — and it all then goes to a wastewater treatment facility to be cleaned up afterward.

The scale of our water use and pollution is mind-boggling, and the science, engineering, technology, infrastructure, and professional community that manages it deserve our awe and admiration.

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here.

“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