3M gallons of partially treated wastewater dumped into Lake Champlain

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Even though the weather was perfect for it, there was a warning in Burlington Wednesday to stay away from beaches in the south end of the city.

The city says 3 million gallons of partially treated wastewater was released into Lake Champlain around midnight. They did not close any beaches but recommended people stay away from four of them: Blanchard Beach, Blodgett Area Beach, the Coast Guard Boat Launch and Perkins Pier.

This is the fifth time this summer Burlington beaches were put on notice.

The city says the partially treated sewage was released from the city's main wastewater treatment plant. The four affected beaches are within one mile of the discharge.

Now, city leaders have made a plan to update the system that is more than 20 years old.

"I'm getting the sense they don't have this problem under control," beachgoer Andrew Prendimano said.

Prendimano and his wife say they're concerned the wastewater was released into the lake, but the following afternoon they and others still enjoyed Blanchard Beach. The beach remained open pending water test results. However, there are signs warning of possible contamination.

But Margie Rosenblatt saw the signs and turned around. "We decided to just not take the chance and go back and swim in the pool," Rosenblatt said. "I'm thinking I don't really want to go underwater, or spend a lot of time today, maybe another day, until they get the test results back."

"Like other Vermonters, I consider these failures unacceptable and they have to end," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

City leaders including the mayor explained the discharge occurred when an over 20-year-old computer system failed during a time of high flow following a rainstorm Tuesday night.

"The computer that turns on and off our disinfection pumps did not direct our disinfection pumps to engage," said Chapin Spencer, the director of Burlington Public Works.

It took 58 minutes for an employee to get to the plant and fix the problem manually. Officials say that if they knew such a large storm was coming, they would have staffed the plant overnight.

"This thunderstorm that we got was a little more significant and concentrated than what we were aware of. We need to be better at predicting," said Megan Moir of Burlington Public Works.

With this being the fifth time the plant has discharged water, the mayor is taking action. Weinberger is directing the plant to devote all resources available and outside experts to investigate what caused the failure and how to prevent it from happening again. There is also now a deadline of December 1 for a plan for upgrades to the facility to put before voters on Town Meeting Day.

"We now need to turn our attention to the wastewater treatment plants," Spencer said.

The city has done a test for E. coli and they expect to get the results Thursday. We will share those results with you as soon as we get them.