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Department of Public Works

Clean Water Resiliency Plan


Read up on our recent update to the community on implementation of the Clean Water Resiliency Plan - passed in November 2018. See more here: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/DPW/CWRP/Implementation

On September 20, Mayor Miro Weinberger officially announced the Clean Water Resiliency Plan, a seven-point, $30 million proposal to stabilize and upgrade Burlington's wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and to steward Lake Champlain for this and future generations. 

On September 25, the Burlington City Council approved bringing forward this plan to voters on the November 6, 2018 ballot. 

View the Clean Water Resiliency Plan Fact Sheet Here:

Public Engagement

  • TOWN HALL - Mayor Weinberger & City officials discussed the Clean Water Resiliency Plan with the community at a Town Hall event on Thursday, Sept. 27, "Town Hall: A Community Conversation on Water Quality." 
    • See the presentation here 
    • Ch 17 was there. You can watch the Town Hall here:
  • NPA'S - Public Works will be presenting at all NPA's. For all dates, times and agendas, please visit the NPA webpage here.
    • Presentation to Neighborhood Planning Assemblies:  
  • Live @ 5:25 w/ Mayor Miro Weinberger & Division Director of Water Resources Megan Moir. Originally aired Sept. 26, and the recording is available to watch online.


Clean Water Resiliency Dashboard - Click Below for an Interactive Map of this Proposed Citywide Reinvestment:



About the Plan

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, which voters will decide on the November ballot. If voters approve the bond, new investments will begin this winter. Due to aggressive cost-mitigation measues, when borrowing is fully phased in, the average Burlington household can expect to see an increase of approximately $5.36 in their monthly water bills.

The Clean Water Resiliancy Plan outlines seven key strategies for improvements across the City's wastewater and stormwater systems:

1. Investing in Wastewater Treatment Plants

2. Updating Pump Stations

3. Relining and Rehabilitating Sewer and Stormwater Pipes

4. Repairing Stormwater Outfalls

5. Implementing Pollution Prevention Programs

6. Constructing Green Infrastructure

7. Completing Integrated Planning

For a detailed summary of the Plan, see the full press release:



To go in-depth, see the Memorandum that DPW presented to the Board of Finance that outlines the Plan:


See the presentation that DPW gave to City Council:



See the City Council resolution:


This Plan is a reinvestment across Burlington, investing in all three wastewater treatment plants, critical stormwater outfalls, pump stations, and the sewer and stormwater pipe network that is essential to a sustainable city.




When did Burlington begin installing its sewer system? The first sewers were built in the late 19th century.

When was the first Treatment Plant built? Despite the fact that sewage treatment in Burlington was discussed as early as 1905, the first large scale sewage treatment plant (Main Wastewater Treatment Plant) was not built until 1953, with North Plant and Riverside Plants built in 1961 and 1963 respectively. Main Plant was reportedly the first large scale sewage treatment plant built in Vermont. The treatment Plants were then upgraded in 1994, including the addition of a vortex which allows us to treat and disinfect the combination of stormwater and wastewater that comes to the plant during a rainstorm. Prior to the system upgrades in 1994, Burlington was discharging an average of 170M gallons annually of untreated, non-disinfected water directly to area water anytime it rained. Now, almost all of that is treated and disinfected.


Why are you proposing this Plan now? The City had been working on this plan for two years, knowing that an investment in its wastewater and stormwater infrastructure would be necessary. After this past summer's series of unpermitted discharges, it became clear the time to make this generation's investment in this infrastructure is now. This Plan will stabilize and modernize our treatment plants, pump stations, stormwater outfalls and pipe network and will steward the Lake for this and future generations. A healthy Lake is vital to the economic vitality, public health and recreational opportunities of our beautiful natural setting. 

Will the proposed actions eliminate all unpermitted discharges? Burlington has seen remarkable progress in just a few generations in reducing its footprint on Lake Champlain, but this past summer saw some steps backward with aging infrastructure. Treatment, disinfection and discharge standards are rightfully higher than in the past. This plan will stabilize our system and modernize it. While it’s not possible to say we expect 0 unpermitted discharges, this plan gets us back firmly on the path toward 0.

Will more money be required in the future to shore up the wastewater and stormwater system? Eventually, yes. As we have seen, the prior upgrade in 1994 was a major undertaking and all infrastructure requires continued preventative maintenance, upgrading and eventual replacement. Further, there will be additional regulatory requirements from the state and federal government and our Integrated Planning effort that will lead to additional capital needs beyond 2020 or 2021.

Why were the drinking water mains prioritized over wastewater/stormwater during the 2016 bond request? At the time, Burlington had just suffered through “Frost-Pocalypse” when an unusually high number of drinking water mains had broken during and after a harsh winter. Additionally, one of the infrastructure bonds set us up for a  massive reinvestment in our aging 95 miles of streets. To do so with fiscal responsibility in mind, we sought to first reline or replace the drinking water mains under those streets set for repaving. We have repaved more streets and rehabilitated more water mains than at any point in generations, and we look forward to similar success on upgrading our wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.


Why do discharges happen? Discharges happen everyday at our Wastewater Treatment Plants - after full treatment and disinfection. The effluent that typically leaves our Plants is clear, clean and is sent a half mile into the Lake, toward the Lake floor and through a diffuser. As we saw during this past summer, unpermitted discharges happened after an upset to the biological treatment system (the good bugs were being defeated by the bad bugs); or when a part of our aging system broke down (we had a mechanical valve failure as well as part of a computer system failure). Unpermitted discharges means that the effluent that is leaving the plant either hasn’t been fully treated or fully disinfected and the e. Coli levels are higher than what our state-issued permit allows.

Are unpermitted discharges increasing? This past summer was a challenge, and we did see an increase in unpermitted discharges from our Main Wastewater Treatment Plant. Overall, however, Burlington has continued reducing its impact on Lake Champlain. Prior to the system upgrades in 1994, Burlington was discharging an average of 170M gallons annually of untreated, non-disinfected water directly to area water anytime it rained.

What is a CSO? CSO stands for combined sewer overflow, which occurs when the volume of a rain event exceeds the carrying capacity of the pipe. CSO’s were built into the sewer system generations ago in many urban, dense environments. While unfortunate, they do prevent sewage from backing up into most homes or businesses. Discharging into receiving waters reduces the likelihood of contact or illness if it were to empty into homes or businesses. Burlington is one of over 750 communities nationwide with an inherited CSO system. Burlington has 5 CSO points, down from 12.  We also see less frequent CSO’s, though the Pine St Barge Canal CSO remains our most challenging. In Burlington, our CSO’s discharge to the Pine St Barge Canal, the Winooski River and the Intervale Wetlands.

Why doesn’t Burlington separate its entire sewer and stormwater system? Burlington has separated the vast majority of its network, with about 35% still combined. Most of the combined sewer system exists under downtown and the Old North End - the densest parts of our city and with a crowded subterranean network of existing utilities and infrastructure. The massive expense and disruption would not be practical as there is no space left to locate separate pipes and our existing infrastructure treats stormwater through our Treatment Plants. If we separated the rest of the system, much of the stormwater we experience during a rain event would flow to our waterways, having picked up bacteria, phosphorus, heavy metals and petroleum contaminants along the way. If the City were to fully separate it’s storm and sanitary sewer systems, without providing treatment for that stormwater, we would be trading an acute problem for a chronic one. The City has made substantial efforts since forming a Stormwater Utility in 2009 to systematically construct retrofits around the City to either disconnect altogether, or at least provide treatment and detention of stormwater before it enters the combined sewer.  At a minimum, these retrofits provide “relief” to the combined sewer when it’s raining, giving the collection system and ultimately the Wastewater Plant a chance to catch-up with the amount of flow entering. The plant can then effectively provide the treatment it is designed to.

Does the City have capacity at its Plants to handle additional businesses and residents? Yes, we have plenty of capacity left to handle wastewater. The problem that has occurred at the Plants this summer are due to the intensity + volume of rainstorms and a breakdown of aging systems OR the disruption to our biological treatment system. These issues are addressed in the Clean Water Resiliency Plan.

Do the discharges contribute to cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms? There are a variety of things that contribute Phosphorous to Lake Champlain, which is the nutrient that allows cyanobacteria to proliferate and bloom.  When EPA and Vermont DEC developed the clean-up plan for Lake Champlain, they based that plan on 10 years of monitoring and studying where Phosphorous was coming from, as well as the amount of Phosphorous coming from each distinct source. When you break down the Phosphorus from each source, Wastewater Treatment Facilities make up only 4% of the total P load coming from sources in Vermont. Other land use sectors contribute the rest of that volume. So, while discharges from the Wastewater Treatment Plant do contribute to the Phosphorous impairment in the lake, they make up a very small portion of the overall contribution to this issue.