Saturday, October 16, 2021

Storm water and sewers

Several times a year, usually following a heavy rain, sewage that has not been fully treated overwhelms the Ticonderoga treatment plant and flows into the La Chute River, and shortly after that, into Lake Champlain. (Check out an overview of the latest “State of the Lake” report here)

There’s nothing secret about it; the town sends out email alerts whenever it happens. The Department of Environmental Conservation allows it, up to a point. If there are too many rain storms and too many overflows, the town is fined because, well, you can’t assess a fine on God.

Ticonderoga is not alone. A half century ago, communities saw no reason not to mix sewage and storm water and send it all to the treatment plant, and that worked until more development led to more effluent, which in time exceeded sewer-plant capacity.

The growth, however, has not been sufficient to pay for sewer plant expansion. Small communities in tourist areas lack enough people among whom to divide up the cost of expanded capacity. Also, sending flow through a treatment plant comes at a cost, and treating clean water makes little financial sense.

The Ticonderoga story has a happy ending, however. Within the next few weeks the town will “throw the switch” on an $8 million project primarily designed to separate storm water from sanitary sewer effluent. The storm water will be channeled into a “day stream” that is dry except in times of high water. It will receive some basic treatment for removal of trash and litter before being diverted to the river. The rainwater will not go through the treatment plant, which will be freed up to do the job in which it was intended.

Storm water, of course, has its own issues and its own set of needs. But municipalities are coming to understand that storm water and sewer flow are two different things.

Top: Highway and water supervisor Jason Monroe, left, and Town Supervisor Craig Leggett discuss water and sewer needs in the town of Chester. Photo by Cindy Schultz

Editor’s note: This first appeared in the Explorer’s weekly Water Line newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Tim Rowland

Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

8 Responses

  1. Zephyr says:

    This still goes on in many places. Plus, stormwater runoff from streets and such is one of the leading causes of water pollution. Think of all the dripped oil, rubber bits, metal from brakes, dog poop, coolant, pesticides, road salt, leakage from garbage trucks, etc. etc. you have seen on roads and imagine how much ends up in our waters.

  2. Jim S. says:

    To the editor;
    I don’t think that sewer stories should be next to cookie stories.

  3. Drew P Weiner says:

    Jason looks like he could use a trip through the treatment plant himself

  4. John Junker says:

    Continued advancements in protecting the water source and storage as well as treating sewage are basic minimums society needs to work on. This “dry stream” that’s been created – is it lined with Lyme rocks or other buffering materials and does it have aeration” drops” built into it/ Is there a way to buffer the run off from winter salt run off also built into these run offs?. In Westchester you have not been able to purchase fertilizer bags that contain phosphate for several years now. But land owners around lakes and ponds as we work our way north are still pilling leaf and grass debris in the curb which washes down into the lakes they want to use for swimming and water usage. I also still see laundry wash water going to the curb and right into the lake. I applaud the efforts the towns are making to preserve the Adirondacks and such gems as Lake George.

  5. Anita Bathe says:

    Is Jason the water supervisor or sewer supervisor?

  6. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “The Ticonderoga story has a happy ending…..The storm water will be channeled into a “day stream” that is dry except in times of high water.”

    How comforting! As if this is okay! Toxic waste being dumped into what’s left of our waterways is old hat in this country. I recall some few years ago there was some politician, or special interest spokesman, south of the Dixie line (Virginia maybe?) who said outright that no harm would be done to a creek which a corporation was asking permission to dump toxic waste into, thousands of gallons. I suppose they had no way else to dispose of it without costing them money. I wish I could remember the exact story I’m talking about, but nonetheless, this is what that person said. I’ll never forget! I suppose our self-serving psychology, after generations of seeding our minds with fables so as to profit monetarily, has degraded us to the point where outright lies, if told often enough, are believed, even by the liars themselves. But for a large chunk of the population to believe the lies, which it does evidently….this cannot be good.

  7. JB says:

    Adirondack Explorer’s reporting on water is commendable. It seems that we have an overabundance of water up here this past couple of years, yet we are failing to protect ourselves from it and it from ourselves. There is no currently scalable way to remove from wastewater many of the most damaging contaminants, such as those found in our sewage and, even as Zephyr pointed out, our roadways (i.e., the 6-PPD byproduct from our tires that we ended up learning a couple of years ago severely hurt a fragile Salmon population out west). The best that we can do is eliminate as much effluent as we can to begin with, and a good place to start is in the High Country–it’s all downhill from there.

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