Officials Say EPA Estimates For Vermont Water Cleanup Low

Jan 20, 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the five-year cost of cleaning up Vermont waters is about $154 million. But as WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, regional officials say the federal agency is underestimating costs.

The 2012 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey compiled 2012 data for wastewater and stormwater projects planned for the five years following the survey. The nationwide estimate was $271 billion. Vermont’s anticipated five-year cost was $154 million.

Vermont Department Of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren says the EPA survey understates the cost of restoring and enhancing Vermont waters because there is more to clean up than what the EPA assessed.   “The EPA survey looked at wastewater and it also looked some at stormwater projects and projects that were identified at that time.  The sources that we’re looking at have expanded.  We put out a report two years ago that estimated the cost for clean water around $156 million a year for ten years. And we are now refining that number.”

Lake Champlain International monitors the quality of Vermont waters and tracks sewage overflows into Lake Champlain.  Executive Director James Ehlers agrees with the Vermont Environmental Conservation Commissioner that the EPA estimate is too low.   “We in Vermont did a study – the Agency of Natural Resources Act 138 report to the legislature – in 2013.  Vermont’s estimates of its own needs to address clean water overall was $156 million a year, not $154 million over five years. The EPA’s doesn’t address things like agricultural investments and it certainly doesn’t include retrofits to existing commercial and residential properties. So that figure’s closer to 156 million per year, not 154 over five.”

Both the EPA and state of Vermont contribute money to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans for clean water projects such as upgrades to wastewater treatment plants.

Lake Champlain Committee Staff Scientist Mike Winslow notes that the EPA report focuses on wastewater and stormwater and it points out that funding targeting those facilities is falling short of current needs.   “This is reflective of a nationwide problem in keeping up with our infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers releases reports every couple years just screaming about how much money we need to invest and how we have not been keeping on top of all the goods that our parents and grandparents built in terms of roads and wastewater facilities and drinking water facilities.  We haven’t been doing our fair share to keep up with that.”

Vermont’s clean water revolving fund receives about $17 million a year from federal and state sources.