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.