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More Rain Pushes More Sewage Into Vermont Waterways

Heavy rain over the past two weeks has caused sewage dumps in Vergennes, Shelburne, Rutland and Northfield.

Heavy rain in Vergennes on Tuesday caused a city pump station to fail and dump approximately 48,600 gallons of untreated sewage and storm water into Otter Creek.

The Vergennes wastewater system has major capacity problems, which lead to frequent overflows from the city’s highest-volume pump station.

In this case, not only were the pumps overwhelmed but the water flooded the pump station as well.

“The dry side of the pump station flooded during the event and the two pumps were flooded and failed,” city officials reported to state regulators.

Officials said three pump trucks were on hand within an hour to “pump down the incoming flows and the dry side of the pump station,” but one of the two pumps failed almost immediately after being restarted. The city scheduled an electrician to work on it Wednesday.

The city told regulators the overflow was covered under its permit with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which allows overflows from sewer systems that collect wastewater from homes and businesses as well as stormwater from wet weather. The Vergennes system is designed to collect only wastewater, but is in such disrepair that state officials give the city a permit for sewage overflows.

The Vergennes overflow was the fourth sewage spill in the state in the past week. The other three all occurred on July 30.

In Shelburne, a power outage and a failure in the backup generator system in Shelburne caused that city’s sewer system to dump approximately 95,000 gallons of raw sewage into Mababe’s Brook.

In Rutland, heavy rains caused an authorized overflow of between 1,000 and 10,000 gallons.

In Northfield, the wet weather caused 1,500 gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater to flow into the Dog River. That spill, though it occurred on July 30, was not reported to state regulators until the afternoon of August 4. That reporting timeline is in apparent violation of a state directive that asks all sewage plant operators to report any spills within 24 hours.

Neither Ernie Kelley, the wastewater program manager at the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, nor Northfield Utility Superintendent Patrick DeMasi responded to inquiries about the delayed public reporting.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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