State and city officials in Montpelier are scratching their heads trying to figure out who plugged up a sewer pipe that caused a huge backup.
It is news that could make you cringe.
"That's disgusting. Think about all the kids that go into the lake," said Brittany Allen, a Burlington resident.
Beautiful Lake Champlain now polluted with 360,000 gallons of raw sewage.
"This would be sanitary-sewage of anything you flush down the toilet, so it's not anything that we like," explained Todd Law, director of the Montpelier Department of Public Works.
Law says someone stuffed so many industrial strength rags into the Montpelier sewer system that a 30-inch main sewer line near the Statehouse completely plugged up and flow for the entire system stopped over a weekend in mid-March. The Department of Public Works didn't know about it until the following Monday morning.
"We had at least, boy I don't know, close to 24 hours of flow," Law said.
Instead of backing up into buildings or going to the wastewater treatment plant, that sewage spilled into the Winooski River.
"Once it hits the river there's not a whole lot that anyone can do, it's gone," Law explained.
Officials think someone could have flushed those rags down a toilet for a long period of time or they could have dumped them all at once by lifting a manhole cover. The state is investigating the issue and whoever did it could be subject to a hefty fine, but environmentalists say the damage is already done.
"It's frustrating and rather disappointing to see this much raw sewage and pollution going into our rivers," said Ross Saxton of Lake Champlain International, a nonprofit that works to protect the lake. He says the roughly 7,000 port-a-potties worth of sewage may have suffocated several fish in the Winooski and could mean bad news down the line for Lake Champlain.
"The lake can only handle so much phosphorus and nitrogen at a time," Saxton said. "And when it gets too much then the algae just explodes because it feeds on those nutrients."
Saxton says that causes dangerous blue-green algae to form, which has caused beaches to shut down in the summer.
"This incident among all the other similar incidents combined, will have an impact negative impact on the lake and our tourism and our economy and our public health," Saxton said.
State officials at the Agency of Natural Resources declined to go on camera Tuesday, but said they may have more information on Wednesday morning.
The DPW is sending out a letter to all city residents reminding them not to flush anything that is not actual sewage down sinks or drains. They are hoping this was an isolated incident.
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