Trace contaminants found in village discharge


Two outfall pipes that discharge into the Gihon River in the town of Johnson, having tested positive for the presence of low concentrations of contaminants, have been flagged for follow-up testing.

At one outfall, the discharge from a smooth, plastic, 10 in. pipe tested positive for very low levels of chlorine and very low concentrations of MBAS. MBAS are detergents which can indicate a cross connection in the piping, or possibly that contaminants from cars are being carried by runoff from sidewalks and streets.

The aqua-green pipe is on the north side of the river and is visible to the west of the Pearl Street bridge. It drains the walking path which runs along the river bank.

The second outfall indicated in the report tested positive for low concentrations of chlorine. A 24 in., black, plastic, corrugated pipe that drains a portion of Lower Main Street, it is easily visible from the Lower Main Street bridge over the Gihon and can be seen to the south, along the bank with the large parking lot.

If either outfall tests positive for contaminants during follow-up testing, a decision whether to trace the contamination to the source will be made.

The discoveries were revealed in an interim report dated January 31, 2013, from Stone Environmental Inc. of Montpelier, the result of a program commissioned by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation known as: Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE) in the Lamoille River. The testing occurred Oct. 2012.

As stated in the report, “The goal of the Lamoille River Basin (IDDE) project is to improve water quality by identifying and eliminating contaminated, non-stormwater discharges entering stormwater drainage systems and discharging to the Lamoille River and its tributaries.”

Compared to the other 11 river towns strung along the Lamoille River which are cited in the report, Johnson’s assessment puts it ahead of many of its neighbors. During Johnson’s recent, massive overhaul to Main Street, all known cross connections into the stormwater system were either capped or corrected.

“Years ago everybody used to straight-pipe everything,” said Jim Pease, an environmental scientist who has worked at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation for about 20 years and whose name is on the report. “That was the philosophy: to get it into the river, get it diluted, and that was the best possible means of dealing with it…and then, in the 1950s we started cleaning them up. We’ve been doing that for 50 years, but we’ve never really gone back and just checked to make sure we got everything, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The initial idea for IDDE programs came from the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to clean up runoff from urban lands. In 2000, the Vermont Legislature decided to expand the program here in Vermont from the Burlington area only, to a statewide level.

“You don’t want your neighbor, or your(self), to be dumping raw sewage into the lake or river, so it makes sense,” said Pease. “We work with the ones that we find to resolve them. We’re not into heavy-duty enforcement action.” Pease said that most owners, once informed of a violation, work quickly with his agency to resolve the situation.

Dave Braun, a water quality scientist with Stone Environmental Inc. whose name is on the report, wrote in an email response: “We have conducted IDDE studies in numerous Vermont municipalities, and in most of them we have found one or more problems that need to be fixed. These problems include cross connections between the sanitary wastewater system and the stormwater drainage system, such as when a home or business wastewater pipe has been accidentally connected at the street to the stormwater system instead of the wastewater system.”

At neither of the two pipes here in Johnson in need of follow-up testing were meaningful levels of E. coli bacteria or ammonia found. Had they been, it would indicate a worrisome cross-connection or perhaps something more serious. At the time of testing, fire hydrants had been flushed all around the village, noted town officials, and they suspect this was responsible for the presence of the low concentrations of chlorine.