News Feature | August 14, 2018

Who's To Blame For Algal Blooms?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

With algal blooms forcing the closure of popular beaches in Vermont this summer, some critics are blaming sewage plants for the problem.

“The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is appealing nine sewage treatment plant permits that have been approved by the state. The environmental group says these wastewater treatment facilities dumping phosphorus into Lake Champlain are partially responsible for the blooms,” WCAX reported.

“Right now, the Department of Environmental Conservation is issuing new permits to 58 wastewater treatment facilities in Vermont. Those permits determine how much phosphorus each facility can discharge into waterways. The first batch of permits has been issued. That prompted the CLF to sue,” the report stated.

CLF argues the phosphorus discharges from the plants are creating algae. WCAX pointed out that at least some of the new permits lower the amount of phosphorus that can be discharged from the plants each year.

“For example, South Burlington was allowed to discharge around 1,935 pounds per year. The new permit decreased the limit to 760,” the report stated.

South Burlington Water Quality Superintendent Bob Fischer spoke to WCAX, stating that planned upgrades will reduce phosphorus discharges. Fischer stated the operation probably will not even reach its permit limit in discharges.

Julie Moore, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, also responded to CLF’s effort.

"We're really concerned the arguments CLF is making is putting pressure in an unhelpful way on our wastewater treatment facilities and will actually discourage future optimization efforts," she said, per WCAX.

Vermont is hardly alone in its battle against algae. Health regulators in Oregon are creating new regulations to protect drinking water from cyanotoxins.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is going to require routine testing for cyanotoxins, with the added requirement that the public must be notified of the results, The Statesman Journal reported.

Algae is also an issue of congressional interest.

At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on cyanotoxins several years ago, an official from the American Water Works Association, explained the origin of the algae problem.

“There is no uncertainty about one critical aspect of the problem: It is always associated with amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water,” the official said, per Roll Call. “Although each watershed is unique and has its own mix of nutrient sources, across the nation the most prominent uncontrolled sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are non-point sources — that is, runoff. These sources are at the same time both the hardest to manage and the furthest from being subject to meaningful federal regulatory authority.”