Sewage Discharge Into the Black River

Many people were shocked to learn from television or Facebook that up to 1million gallons of partially treated sewage was released into the Black River by the Ludlow wastewater treatment facility (WWTF). beginning 11 am Friday (April 14) and lasting until about noon Saturday (April 15). The sewage was not fully disinfected before it was released and resulted in a river E.coli level of 770 bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters (mLs). The acceptable level of E.coli colonies in Vermont is 235 per 100 mLs. My NBC

Concern is being raised about the safety of the river, why it happened, why wasn’t the town notified and what can be done to keep the community informed.

In preparing this article, Cavendish Connects has spoken to the Cavendish Town office, the Black River Action Team (BRAT) and the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Reporting of Wastewater Discharge: The Agency of Natural Resources (ANR)  requires that Wastewater Treatment Facilities (WWTF) provide a public alert as soon s possible, but no longer than one hour from discovery of an untreated discharge from the wastewater treatment facility. This time requirement is extended to no longer than four hours if the operator does not have telephone or Internet service at the location or they are working to control or stop the untreated discharge. Additional details regarding sewage overflows and incidents are required to be reported within 12 hours of discovery and are included at the DEC (Dept. of Environmental Conservation) website.

Operators are required to post temporary signs at public access areas for 1 mile downstream of sewage discharges and other unpermitted discharges identified by the Secretary that may pose a threat to human health or the environment.  The signs must remain in place for 48 hours after the untreated or unpermitted discharge has stopped. More information about this process is available here.

Since the discharge started the day before, for a 24 hour period partially treated undisinfected effluent was discharged into the Black River somewhere between 500,000 to 1 million gallons, without notification.

Why this Discharge Occurred: The report states, Preliminary lab report of 770 colonies/ 100 mls e-coli believed to be caused by ineffective chlorination. This was most likely caused by nitrification in the secondary clarifiers, while we had the aeration/mixers shut off to hold suspended solids. High flow conditions threatened plant wash-out of solids.

According to Amy Polaczk of DEC, Wastewater treatment is a biological process. In the case of the Ludlow Plant, an oxidation ditch is used to break down organics followed by a secondary clarifier to settle suspended matter, prior to discharge the effluent is chlorinated to inactivate any pathogens that may be present and then dechlorinated as chlorine is toxic to aquatic life in the receiving stream. Because of the high flows through the plant due to rains and snow melt, the operators of the Ludlow WWTF were trying to avoid sending solids to the Black River and to do that they turned off the aeration and mixing. A major component of wastewater treatment is the conversion of ammonia to nitrogen gas. This conversion is a two-step process, first nitrification is the process where ammonia is converted to nitrate/nitrite and then denitrification where the nitrate/nitrite is converted to nitrogen gas. If this process begins but is not complete, nitrate and nitrite will react with chlorine and reduce the amount available to inactivate pathogens. This combination of events is what is believed to have caused high E.coli counts in the Ludlow effluent.

 What About the E-coli Levels?: There are various types ofE.coli and not all of them make your sick.  Nearly every mammal and bird carries it and there are many ways it can get into the river- bird droppings, agricultural run-off, diapers, feces from people or pets, storm water runoff, or even naturally occurring E. coli present in the soil. Just because there are 770 per mL of E. coli does not mean that there are 770 E.coli cells that can make you sick. If there were, the only way it can do so is through oral ingestion. For healthy humans, the infectious dose of E. coli (only the ones able to cause disease) needs to be in the range of 100-10,000 cells. Typically in order to acquire enough of the pathogenic bacteria you would have to swallow water.

The VT Health Department recommends that those using rivers, streams and ponds

• Heed posted advisories or closings

• Do not swallow the water or get it in your mouth

• Stay out of the water 48 hours after a significant rain event

• Shower after swimming; and wash hands before eating.

Learn more at Healthy Recreational Waters

 Corrections: The correction action taken is listed as “aeration was resumed and chlorination system was inspected. Effective levels of disinfection are expected to return within 24 hrs., pending return of manageable flows.”

Notifying Cavendish: To make sure that the community is informed in a timely manner of any discharge,  multiple people in Cavendish will now be receiving the DEC Alerts. You can do this as well by signing up at their website. You can receive these by e-mail or text. 

If a discharge should occur again, it will be posted immediately to Cavendish Connects blog, Facebook and to Update subscribers. BRAT is planning a new feature at their website entitled “Alerts,” which will also be shared at their Facebook page.

Testing of the Black River: For those who swim and regular recreate in the Black River, BRAT will once again be testing the Black River in Cavendish. Thanks to underwriting by Okemo, Cavendish will have water tested at Greven Field and the Cavendish Gorge. In addition to these locations, they will also be testing weekly at Buttermilk Falls (Ludlow), North Branch at Little Ascutney Rd (near Downer’s Four Corners), Downer’s Covered Bridge on Upper Falls Rd in Perkinsville and Tolles Power Dam off Maple St in Weathersfield/Perkinsville. This information is posted on-line at the BRAT site and in the event of an unsafe reading, Cavendish Connects will post this information to their outlets. Thank you Kelly and BRAT for your continued dedication to our River and your help in keeping it a safe recreational area.

How to Protect the Black River: BRAT has a number of programs that support the Black River. Check their website for ways to be involved. BRAT will be at the Cavendish Town Wide Tag Sale July 29th on the Proctorsville Green. This is a good time to ask questions, raise concerns and learn how to become involved in protecting the health and safety of the River. There is a also a possibility that Kelly will be doing a regular show on LPC-TV about the Black River.

Stocking: For those interested in the trout stocking on the Black River, it will take place the weeks of May 1, 8, 15 and 22. A total of 2,000 two-year old trout (1,500 rainbow and 500 brown) will be released.