Officials say Winooski River sewage pipe fix could take another week

Published: Jul. 14, 2023 at 5:37 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A broken sewer pipe under the Winooski River discovered Wednesday continues to spew up to 250,000 gallons of untreated wastewater into the river and Lake Champlain despite best efforts by Burlington officials to stem the leak.

Crews are running pumper trucks 24/7 to divert untreated wastewater to the New North Ends wastewater plant.

“We are working around the clock, both on the pumping to reduce that number and on the bypass piping project, which should get underway Monday of this coming week,” said Burlington Public Works Director Chapin Spencer.

He says the break in the 1950s era pipe was discovered around 3 a.m. Wednesday and was caused by pressure from floodwaters.

They immediately took steps to prevent the leak -- representing about 10% of the city’s wastewater -- by tapping into a sewer main to capture the wastewater near the breach and truck it away. Now, 70% of the untreated wastewater is not going into the river. But the city says about a million gallons have already leaked and that number increases by 250,000 gallons a day.

“Everyone has to be concerned when you have a discharge of bacteriological material into the lake. After all, it’s our drinking water as well,” said Donald Devost, a New North End resident.

A plan was finalized Thursday to build a mile of pipe bypass through the New North End, but that will take time -- and at least a couple hundred thousand dollars -- to fix. “We are planning to work from both ends as fast as possible to connect this. I am hopeful that we can get this done in the next 10 days. We are going to be working as fast as we can,” Spencer said.

Back in 2006, another pipe in the same area also broke, causing a similar issue. It was an expensive fix which Spencer says led the city to not replace the current problem pipe. “We regularly inspect this line. We dye tested twice a year and we send divers down periodically to actually look at the pipe -- which coincidentally our last inspection by a diver was done June, last month -- and the report found no significant findings,” he said.

To help mitigate the amount of untreated water flowing into the lake, the city is asking residents in the area to conserve water use.

“It’s been fine. I think the asks are within reasonable limits of behavior during normal times -- just conserving water and using as little as possible, so it hasn’t felt terribly onerous, to be honest,” said Wendy Rice, a local resident.

But the problem -- along with historic flooding -- adds to the lake’s existing water quality woes this summer. Environmental officials say they don’t yet know the full scope of the impacts. “We need to invest in infrastructure, maintenance, and upgrading in order to be able to respond to these types of events that we are unfortunately seeing with increasing frequency,” said Lori Fisher with the Lake Champlain Committee.

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