BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Upwards of 4.7 million gallons of untreated stormwater flowed into Vermont streams rivers, and lakes after the Halloween storm, but state officials say many treatment facilities performed admirably in the adverse conditions.
It was a scary sight Halloween night as the rain pounded down flooding streets.
"When people think about how much rain fell over a 14-hour period, it really was substantial," Megan Moir, the head of Water Resources in Burlington. She says over the course of the storm, their wastewater treatment plant processed 34 million gallons of combined sewage and rainwater, Just 2 million shy of what they did during Tropical Storm Irene. But despite that, there was still too much water and nearly a million gallons of stormwater and wastewater mixture was discharged into the lake or other water bodies. That's by design, she says, to keep it from backing up into your basement or flooding the plant.
"If we didn't have any systems in place our wastewater treatment plant system could be come over run," Moir said.
Burlington wasn't the only community struggling to keep up. By the numbers, the Halloween storm caused 33 combined sewer overflows in eight different municipalities. Upwards of 4.7 million gallons of untreated water went into the environment.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Emily Boedecker says for a storm of such intensity, their infrastructure performed well. "It certainly is not an insignificant volume, but it's not a super high volume," she said. She says other than Johnson, which was hit particularly hard, the other wastewater facilities largely kept up. "I think that means we've had a lower incidence of actual wastewater going out."
Which means of that 4.7 million gallons, most of it was likely just rainwater. Still, her department was concerned about E. coli. Fortunately, she says with the summer water recreation season past and rescue workers wearing protective gear, the risk of people getting infected was lower. But she says there's still work to do to slow down the water in natural sponges -- like floodplains, catch basins, and other infrastructure -- so that wastewater treatment facilities are not overwhelmed.
"This is a substantial investment. It's not something you can change overnight," Boedecker said.
In Burlington they're already looking at other ways to keep up with the water or keep it out of the pipes for longer. "We really need to take storm events like this into account," Moir said.
Part of the message from both Burlington and the state is that everyone has to do their part. So, many communities are putting in projects designed to capture and hold water to allow it to filter more slowly. And for those at home, even decisions like not running a load of laundry or taking shorter showers can help keep some of the strain off the system during heavy storms.