St. Albans power outage triggers wastewater scare near Stevens Brook

By Logan Soloman | Community News Service

ST. ALBANS CITY — A power outage Monday caused up to 500,000 gallons of partially treated liquids to flood out of the city’s wastewater treatment plant and into an outflow area near Stevens Brook, a waterbody that’s connected to Lake Champlain and flows downstream into St. Albans.

A public notice of the incident listed Stevens Brook as a “waterbody impacted,” but St. Albans public works director Marty Manahan said the brook was unaffected, as wastewater flowed into a designated area independent of the brook.

city of St. Albans

St. Albans City Hall

What was the impact on the brook? “Nothing,” Manahan said. “It wouldn’t get discharged in Stevens Brook. It gets discharged into our outflow,” Manahan said.

That was a positive development, given that Stevens Brook is already in a bad state: The brook is listed as a high-priority impaired waterway, according to a 2022 state report.

The St. Albans treatment plant has historically contributed to the brook’s impairment. The city’s sewer overflows, a result of rain overwhelming sewer infrastructure, are listed as one of the problems contributing to pollution in the waterway, the state says.

Since 2020, St. Albans has seen 13 instances where partially or completely untreated wastewater was discharged from the city plant, totaling between 275,000 and 2.5 million gallons, according to state data.

Most of those instances were due to intense rains, and Manahan was thankful that was not the case Monday.

“Luckily it wasn’t during a high-flow period,” he said. “There would have been more gallons discharged if it was.”

The impact was also mitigated because a backup power generator meant the discharged liquids only missed one round of wastewater treatment. The generator powered several processes that removed solids, disinfected the liquids and provided dechlorination before the wastewater entered the outflow area. The one chemical process missing likely could have been performed too, Manahan said, if the entire facility was hooked up to the generator, which is not the case. He assumed that wasn’t done because it’s a costly prospect.

The power outage was caused by a split powerline and impacted the plant for two and a half hours. While the storm did not impact Stevens Brook, it did result in nearly 1,500 households in the northern part of St. Albans losing electricity for portions of the night, according to data from Green Mountain Power.

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of city of St. Albans