City of Burlington, Vermont

City of Burlington, Vermont

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Mayor Miro Weinberger Announces 7-Point Clean Water Resiliency Plan to Stabilize and Upgrade City’s Wastewater & Stormwater Infrastructure

The Clean Water Resiliency Plan will protect Lake Champlain from discharges with $30 million of critical investments at a cost of approximately $5/month for the average Burlington household

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

September 20, 2018

Contact: Olivia LaVecchia

                   802-734-0617

 

Burlington, VT – Today Mayor Miro Weinberger, along with the Department of Public Works, City Councilors, and other partners, announced the Clean Water Resiliency Plan: a seven-point, $30 million initiative to stabilize, modernize, and upgrade Burlington’s wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

 

The City has been working toward this plan for years.  Over the last three years, as the City has been pursuing major investments in other areas of the City’s infrastructure, the Department of Public Works (DPW) commissioned comprehensive third-party studies of the City’s wastewater and stormwater systems, and discussed with the City Council upcoming needed investments in each of the last two budget years.  The Clean Water Resiliency Plan accelerates these planned investments as a result of the high level of unplanned discharges that Burlington experienced this summer.

 

The investments in the Plan are proposed to be funded by a $30 million wastewater and stormwater revenue bond.  This Monday, the City Council will vote to place the bond question on the November ballot, and if passed by voters, new investments will begin this winter.

 

“This Plan is a continuation of the historic infrastructure investment Burlington began in 2016 with the support of three-quarters of the City’s voters,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger.  “By acting decisively at the ballot box this fall we can take a huge step forward in the 150-year-long effort to create a city that thrives in balance with our spectacular natural setting.”

 

“This comprehensive reinvestment proposal is the result of three years of hard work from a team of consultants, staff, and industry experts.  We have inspected our plants and pipes, calculated the risks and consequences of failure, and begun preliminary design on critical elements – all to ensure that we have an effective, affordable, and well-honed proposal for Burlingtonians to consider,” said Chapin Spencer, Director of Public Works.

 

“I could not be more pleased with the work that my Water Resources team has accomplished in accelerating our ongoing capital planning efforts in the 10 weeks since our July incident,” said Megan Moir, Assistant Director of Water Resources. “Collectively, our many long hours have enabled us to get to a more immediate plan for reinvestment in our critical wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and minimize our risk of additional discharges and beach closures.”

 

The Plan outlines seven key strategies for improvement across the City’s wastewater and stormwater systems:

 

1. Investing in Wastewater Treatment Plants: Burlington’s three wastewater treatment plants have only been upgraded twice since they were constructed p the 1950s and 1960s, and it’s now been 24 years since the most recent comprehensive upgrade. DPW has made proactive improvements, and yet, the plants’ aging equipment – and particularly their disinfection systems – have experienced failures this summer that have resulted in three permit violations and permit-required beach closures. Based on a review of these failures, and risk based capital planning analyses across all wastewater system components, DPW has identified more than two dozen necessary improvements across the three plants, including systems that will add crucial redundancy and added layers of system alarms.

 

2. Updating Pump Stations: While most of the City’s sewer system functions through gravity, in 25 low-lying areas, the City relies on pump stations. Some of the current pump stations are more than 40 years old, and in recent years, have experienced failures that have resulted in wastewater discharges. DPW has assessed all pump stations, and identified 11 high-risk stations for substantial repairs. These improvements will increase the reliability of the pump stations, and reduce the risk of wastewater flowing into water bodies, roadways, and private properties.

 

3. Relining and Rehabilitating Sewer and Stormwater Pipes: More than 140 miles of pipes comprise the City’s sewer and stormwater systems. Many of the sanitary and combined sewer pipes are over 100 years old. While the separate stormwater system is much younger, the traditional material selection of those pipes at the time of construction, corrugated metal pipe, has been corroded by the salting of our roads necessary for winter driving safety.   DPW has been conducting a systemic risk based assessment of the sewer and stormwater collection systems, and has identified 13 miles of the highest-priority sections to reline or replace.

4. Repairing Stormwater Outfalls: The City’s 101 outfalls, or sites where separated stormwater discharges into watersheds, are in various states of repair. When these outfalls fail, they can erode public and private property, undermine buildings and roads, and impact water bodies with sediments and nutrients. DPW has identified the five outfalls most in need of repair.

5. Implementing Pollution Prevention Programs: As the City has received more wastewater from the beverage and food industries, the organic content in the wastewater has increased and resulted in disruptions to the biological treatment process. In order to reduce the impact of this increased strength, the City is working to develop an industrial wastewater pollution prevention program that provides a clear framework for what these industries can do to reduce the strength of the water that goes down their drains and reaches the wastewater plants.  As evidence of the City’s intention to work with industrial customers in a way that allows these businesses to flourish, while also ensuring the protection of the City’s water resources, a portion of the Plan involves funds that can be offered as low interest loans to support prompt implementation of improvements at these industries.

6. Constructing Green Infrastructure: During intense storm events, the amount of stormwater entering the City’s combined sewer system (the pipes that carry both sewage and stormwater) can exceed capacity and cause overflows. The City seeks to expand green wet-weather infrastructure such as rain gardens to mitigate the intensity of these stormwater flows while also creating other community benefits, like green space and shading.

7. Completing Integrated Planning: DPW is already underway with a first-in-the-state Integrated Planning initiative that coordinates future stormwater and wastewater investments. Along with this Integrated Planning process, supplemental planning efforts will ensure that DPW can prioritize upgrades that deliver the greatest return on investment, minimizing rate impacts while also maximizing the performance of Burlington’s water infrastructure.

 

While this Plan represents a long-term solution to stabilize Burlington’s wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, the City has also worked hard to implement interim measures. In the wastewater system, DPW has rewired the main wastewater plant’s disinfection system and expanded staffing at the plant during off-peak storm events, among other measures. DPW is also taking proactive steps when it comes to stormwater management, including requiring new developments to fully manage the stormwater produced by any new impervious surface created by the project, and to mitigate the stormwater running off any existing impervious surfaces on their property.

 

Since voters approved initial funding for the City’s Sustainable Infrastructure Plan in 2016, the City and DPW have made major progress repaving streets, rebuilding sidewalks, and rehabilitating water mains. The City knew that improving our community’s water management systems would require additional investment in the future, and as a result of this year’s system failures and concern from the public, made the decision to accelerate this capital planning and propose the Clean Water Resiliency Plan.

 

Cost and Affordability Summary

Mayor Weinberger and DPW are vigorously pursuing strategies to reduce the impact of this bonding proposal on ratepayers. After five years, ratepayers can expect to see a total 12.2 percent increase in their wastewater bills (~$4.26/month for the average user) and a 16.7 percent increase in their stormwater bill (~$1.10/month for the average user). Due to aggressive cost-mitigation measures, when the borrowing is fully phased in, average single-families will see an approximately $5.36 increase in their monthly water bills.

 

By using the cost-mitigation strategies detailed below, the City has already been able to reduce the impact on ratepayers by approximately 40 percent:

  • By borrowing from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the City will save approximately $8 million over the life of the $30 million loan because of the lower cost of administrative fees and ability to defer pay back on planning, design, and construction costs until one year after construction is completed.

 

  • The City will also reallocate existing Water Resources revenues to offset some debt service costs by dedicating a portion of the budgeted capital funds (or “PayGo Capital”) to debt service. The PayGo Capital will accelerate reinvestments into these utilities while minimizing bond-driven rate increases so that existing resources will pay for approximately 30 percent of the new bonding.

 

  • The Water Resources management team will continue to pursue additional rate mitigation strategies after the bond is passed. These strategies include applying for State grants and loan forgiveness or subsidy, evaluating alternative strategies to the current Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) paradigm, considering additional fees for service from users (for example, fire services to buildings, project review, and connection fees), and exploring minimizing rate increases for residential and low-income users through alternative rate structures and affordability programs.

 

Major elements of wastewater proposal:

 

Project

Cost

Disinfection and SCADA/PLC upgrades (Main, East, and North)

$1,438,000

Other Wastewater plant (Main, East, and North) capital needs over next five years

$11,403,000

Wastewater planning studies to inform decisions for a future bond (East plant suitability, dewatering)

$180,000

Upgrades to 11 pump stations with the highest need

$2,595,000

Rehabilitation of 6.72 miles of collection systems (sewers)

$3,360,000

Asset management systems

$173,000

Industrial wastewater program development and pass-through lonas

$425,000

City project management staff

$282,000

Wastewater total request

$19,856,000

 

Major elements of stormwater proposal:

 

Project

Costs

Upgrades to five (out of eleven) high-risk stormwater outfalls

$2,350,000

Rehabilitation to 6.3 miles of stormwater collection system pipes

$3,160,000

Wet weather mitigation and disinfection, including combined sewer runoff reduction at the Pine Barge Canal and a Pine Street CSO disinfection station

$2,172,000

Great Streets and City Hall Park stormwater improvements

$1,650,000

Stormwater regulatory obligations

$315,000

Asset management systems

$173,000

City project management staff

$282,000

Stormwater total request

$10,102,000

 

The great majority of these investments are targeted toward stabilizing and improving the existing wastewater and stormwater systems in order to minimize unplanned discharges like the ones Burlington has seen in 2018. In approximately four to five years, following both the completion of the City’s Integrated Planning process and the resolution of significant regulatory and State financing questions, the City anticipates significant additional investments. These investments will target further minimizing the impact of combined sewer runoff, as well as maximizing the reduction of phosphorus and other pollutants into the Lake from stormwater and wastewater.

 

Broad Support for the Clean Water Resiliency Plan

“The plan we are putting forward is a responsible plan with the goal of protecting the Lake, which along with the Bike Path and the Church Street Marketplace, is one of the crown jewels of Burlington, the region, and the entire State,” said City Council President Kurt Wright. “From the people I have talked to, I believe there is strong support for this plan, which was also unanimously endorsed by the Board of Finance.”

“Burlington has a long legacy of protecting the environment,” said City Councilor Brian Pine. “This investment is critical to improving the health of our Lake.”

 

“At the City level, the most important action we can take to protect Lake Champlain is to make needed upgrades to our wastewater treatment system.  We owe that to our Lake,” said City Councilor Joan Shannon. “Support of this bond is consistent with the pledge that I and many other City residents have taken to do all that we can to improve our water quality in Lake Champlain.  It is also consistent with the priorities I am hearing from my constituents.  I am fully supportive of this bond and encourage the City Council and citizens of Burlington to support the bond as one part of doing all that we can to protect our Great Lake.”

 

“As the Chamber continues to advocate for responsible growth that positions Burlington as the location of choice for businesses and their employees, we need the infrastructure to keep pace with demand,” said Tom Torti, President and CEO of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The Mayor’s proposal addresses the inadequacies of our aged infrastructure and embodies the progressive leadership that we have come to expect from the Mayor and his team.”

"As a waterfront destination, ECHO applauds the City for investing in stormwater infrastructure - a critical step in protecting the public asset of our lakefront water,” said Phelan Fretz, Executive Director of the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. “Scientific data clearly shows this investment pays dividends in public health protection, preserving vital habitat and ensuring safe beaches for Vermont families and visitors."

 

“I support any effort to clean up the waters of Vermont,” said State Representative David Deen. “I especially want to increase compliance with the spirit and specifics of Act 64 the Vermont Clean Water Act, and improvement in stormwater and wastewater treatment certainly fit into that category.”

 

“The Vermont Clean Water Act of 2015 requires 'everybody in,' and Burlington’s new clean water plan, supported by a $30 million bond, is very good news for the community, the lake, and the environment,” said State Senator Chris Bray, Chair of Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. 

 

Background: 70 Years of Burlington Lake Protection Progress

Before Burlington’s first wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) was constructed in 1953, all wastewater and stormwater flowed directly into Lake Champlain, Englesby Brook, and the Winooski River.

 

  • Combined Sewer Overflows and 1990s Upgrades: As is typical with many older cities, Burlington is one of 772 communities around the United State that have combined sewer systems for wastewater and stormwater. Any time the volume in the combined sewer system exceeds the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant and sewer pipes (due to heavy rain falls), a mixture of untreated wastewater and stormwater overflows into Lake Champlain. These combined overflow system (CSO) protects the WWTPs and prevents sewage from backing up into homes, but it also has water quality impacts.

    In the 1990s, on-shore sewage discharges into the Lake during most rain storms caused frequent beach closures, and Burlingtonians passed a $52 million bond to upgrade the WWTPs to improve phosphorus removal, increase hydraulic capacity, and reduce the locations, frequency, and volume of the CSOs. This bond included work to eliminate seven of the twelve CSO points and increased the capacity at the WWTP to treat and disinfect an estimated minimum 170 million gallons (on average)  of annual combined sewer wet weather flow that had previously been flowing directly into the Lake.

 

  • Additional CSOs Discovered and Monitored: More recently, the City has discovered two additional, previously unknown, CSO points as a result of outfall inspection and mapping efforts in 2010 and 2015. DPW has installed improved alarm technology at all known CSO points to better monitor, quantify, and report the combined sewer overflow that occurs in an even and has recently installed flow meters to measure the quantity of overflow. The City has taken steps to divert and slow-down stormwater runoff in the areas upstream of the the CSO points, including the construction of subsurface infiltration systems. As a result of these efforts, overflows at four of the five CSO points have significantly decreased in frequency and volume in recent years. 

 

  • Creation of the Stormwater Utility: In 2009, the City of Burlington was the second municipality in Vermont to take the important step of creating a Stormwater Utility, which ensures more than $1 million per year in dedicated funding for continued investments in Water Quality improvements. Also, the wastewater ordinance was updated to include stormwater requirements and the authority to require any new development and redevelopment projects to better manage their stormwater on site.

 

City officials will be available to answer any questions and discuss the Clean Water Resiliency Plan with the community next week at an event, “Town Hall: A Community Conversation on Water Quality.” The event will be held on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 6pm in Contois Auditorium in City Hall.

 

For more information on the proposal, please see the memorandum available at the following link: Proposal for a Resilient City – Reinvesting in Burlington’s Wastewater & Stormwater Infrastructure.

 

 

 

Press Release Date: 
09/20/2018
City Department: 
Mayor's Office