Are Wastewater Plants Really Responsible For Unsightly Algae Blooms?

Beaches on Lake Champlain closed due to toxic algae blooms

Beaches on Lake Champlain closed due to toxic algae blooms

The beaches in the town of St. Albans on Lake Champlain are closed even though the weather is beautiful. The reason for the closing is the thriving algae blooms that have overtaken the shores. The blue-green algae is potentially toxic to humans and pets, so the town officials are forced to close the beaches every summer. The algae blooms flourish in certain conditions, which are usually in August when both the air and the water are warmer. When temperatures cool, the algae begins to disperse and the beaches are once again open to the public. Although the algae occurs naturally in Lake Champlain, the EPA says phosphorous from wastewater plants in nearby towns, including St. Albans, is fueling the blooms. In a strategy to clean up the Vermont landmark, the EPA has drafted a plan to update the phosphorous standards, and upgrades to the St. Albans wastewater plant will cost the town about $2.9 million. Dominic Cloud, the city manager, agrees it’s the right thing to do for the environment, but the problem is figuring out how to pay for it. The town is currently conducting a $105,000 pilot project that is testing three different methods of reducing phosphorous. St. Albans isn’t the only town that is experiencing this problem. Nearby, the city of Burlington’s upgrades may cost $30 million, $20 million in upstream Montpelier, and $7.8 million in Richford.

Vermont officials are wondering if the plan to reduce phosphorous will clear the water, and if it is cost-effective. Miro Weinberger, the Mayor of Burlington, doesn’t think $30 million spent on upgrading their plant, and $3 million each on the two smaller towns is worth it. The State Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross, said in a recent town meeting that even with the plan in place, it would take nearly ten years to clean up. To many residents, that is way too long. The owner of a family-owned camp on Missisquoi Bay says that something needs to be done sooner. According to the EPA, only 3% of the phosphorous that makes its way into the lake comes from wastewater facilities, but in Missiqoui Bay, the amount is 8.5%. A dairy farmer says that even though he has made expensive changes over the last 15 years, the lake has only gotten worse. While everyone agrees the lake needs to be cleaned, figuring out the right answer on how to do it is the problem. Nearby town and city leaders, farmers, environmentalists and residents all have until September 15 to weigh in on the plan.

While a number of other factors contribute to the growth of the algae blooms, from tilling the nearby corn fields to the geography of the lake, Vermont legislature passed a new bill to prove they are serious about fixing the problem. The Clean Water Fund is a property tax transfer that is expected to produce $5.6 million in 2016 to go towards cleaning up the lake. Although there are 59 wastewater plants along the Lake Champlain Basin, only 25 were targeted in the EPA’s plan. These are the plants near the most affected parts of the lake. The project manager for the EPA’s plan, Stephen Perkins, said they selected plants along parts of the lake where phosphorous could not be reduced sufficiently by other means. For example, the farms along the Missisquoi River are being held responsible for an 82.8% reduction in phosphorus. There isn’t a way the EPA could realistically require more from the farmers, so it turned to the wastewater plants near Missisquoi Bay. Some think that this tax is a heavy burden for not much impact and suggest that the money go to upgrading the nearby farms instead since they are responsible for 40% of phosphorous in the lake. Unfortunately, government funding doesn’t work that way, and wastewater plants are the EPA’s only source of phosphorus they have the authority to directly regulate. Only the state has authority over farmers, developers, and highway crews, and the EPA must rely on officials to regulate.

The EPA will be keeping an eye on Vermont’s progress with a 2.5 year and a 5 year benchmark set in place. The EPA is calling for a 64% cut of phosphorous in the Missisqoui Bay, 24% in St. Albans Bay, and 31% in Burlington Bay. Critics say the only people who think this plan will work are those vested in the process, while others remain optimistic. One thing is for sure, if the plan does work, then Lake Champlain will once again be the beautiful landmark it has been in the past, all year round.

If your business requires wastewater testing or stormwater runoff testing, call us at (800) 644-4175 or (817) 275-2691 DFW area, or simply fill out our ‘Ask An Expert’ form online, and we can provide you with a free quote.

Link to article: Wastewater Plant Contributes To Algae Blooms On Lake Champlain