On September 26, 2018

Otter Creek cleaner than in the past

By Lani Duke

RUTLAND—Although it seems that Rutland City has frequently released stormwater runoff with sewage into Otter and East creeks, Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said overflow frequency and duration are far less than in the past. New infrastructure in the Northwest Neighborhood gets much of the credit for keeping stormwater out of the sewer system and from entering East Creek, Wennberg told the Rutland Herald.

Before the 1960s, all Rutland’s sewage washed directly into the streams. Mixed sewage and stormwater have entered the streams for a long time since then, but the citizenry was not told it was taking place. Typical overflows lasted for four or five days in the past; now they begin and end in 30 minutes.

Evidence of improvement is still imprecise, “more circumstantial than scientific,” he said.

Running stormwater through the treatment system removes pollutants from urban runoff. Even in an overflow, the river receives far cleaner water than it would if all stormwater were diverted directly into the creeks. But the state would rather not see any litter, waste, phosphorus, or road debris entering the creeks.

After three expansions, city water treatment capacity is up to 22.5 million gallons, seven times what the city needs for sewage output in dry weather, but not enough to cover the heaviest overflows from extreme precipitation. The city began the $5.2 million project in the Northwest Neighborhood in response to tightening state regulations, Wennberg said.

He believes the city should take on two more multi-million-dollar projects: a larger pipe from Calvary Cemetery to the River Street pump station and a separate storm sewer in the West Street vicinity. Lacking any indicator from the state’s engineers as to what effect those projects would produce, Wennberg induced the state’s help in funding a hydrologic study of the city’s wastewater collection to predate construction of additional projects.

The study would take measurements at 860 sites around the city over several months, using them to create a computer model for how rainstorms affect city sewers. The study is nearly done, but a couple of locations appear to reveal data inconsistent with the model predictions, leading to the need for more data. The city will be able to run “what if” scenarios on it, predicting how different projects will affect stormwater flow through the system, Wennberg said. Completion may take another month.

Other possibilities for managing stormwater include diversion into holding tanks until the storm is over and building such green infrastructure as rain gardens, Department of Environmental Conservation Wastewater Program Manager Jessica Bulova commented.

Municipalities are required to report to a state website. The state recommends that people stay out of the affected river for 24 to 48 hours after a discharge, although there appear to be no reports of anyone becoming ill from any the effects of a discharge.

Rutland exceeds the state reporting requirement and is the only municipality posting discharge alerts on social media, Wennberg noted. Public awareness is an important portion of fixing the problem, he explained, because it helps develop community buy-in.

Far more remains to be done, a process that Wennberg expects will require at least two decades and tens of millions of dollars. The pipes are underground and deteriorating, many 159 years old.

In a typical year, 17 to 25 storms overload the sewer system, Wennberg observed, a number he feels is still too high.

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