Upgrades are stemming overflows into the LaChute River
By James M. Odato
Millions of dollars and millions of gallons are flowing into the Town of Ticonderoga’s unorthodox sewer system, due to heavy storms that have caused septic discharges into a river that empties into Lake Champlain.
To end a history of violations of its state Department of Environmental Conservation sewage discharge permit, the town has been tearing up the streets and upgrading the sewage treatment plant as it moves away from a system built to combine storm water and waste for disinfection and release into the LaChute River.
The town system ran afoul numerous times and state regulators cited Ticonderoga a dozen times the past three years for violations, one resulting in a $43,000 DEC fine, according to state records.
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Instead of penalizing the town for trying to manage an outdated network, the state collected $4,000 on the fine and is working with Ticonderoga, providing millions of dollars in grants and loans. The common goal is to fix a problem that was not envisioned in the 1970s when the eastern Adirondack community and other upstate municipalities married ancient lines into combined storm water/sewage facilities. Projects have been underway in phases to end the overflows that have resulted in sewage diluted with storm water bypassing the treatment plant and getting flushed into the river.
“If it’s going on, it’s getting in the LaChute and into the lake,” said Derrick Fleury, Ticonderoga’s water and waste-water superintendent.
An antiquated overflow system has been inundated in recent years from big rainstorms that have caused up to 50 million gallons a day of water to flood into lines entering the treatment plant. The plant was recently upgraded to handle about 6 million daily, twice previous capacity. The problem has continued because of heavy storms and rainwater rush down Mt. Defiance into the bowl between Lake George and Lake Champlain that is Ticonderoga.
To date, the town has received about $11 million in state grants and has had to come up with roughly an equal amount from its taxpayers. Recently, it received a $9.27 million long-term, interest-free loan from the state for continued treatment plant improvements, sanitary sewer separation, and stream work.
The DEC is supporting the upgrades, noting that the combined sewer/stormwater systems that were built years ago don’t meet current regulations and any such systems are now prohibited.
As part of the state-funded work, the discharges into the river from one overflow site has been eliminated and the water rushing during wet weather goes into the plant to get at least some screening, grit removal, and disinfection. Another leak site at the corner of Lake George Avenue and Father Joques Place saw a reduction in the number of “discharge events” annually but did not overflow at all in 2020, because of improvements.
“There’s a menagerie of pipes and we’re trying to clean it up so it’s better separated,” said Town Supervisor Joseph Giordano. He said the work has included diverting streams that come off Mount Defiance. They no longer travel to the treatment plant. He said the LaChute is “going to be the cleanest in thirty years or more.”
The state has no recent water quality tests. But because of some of the work performed, the federal government upgraded the 3.2-mile stretch of the LaChute to a Class C waterbody in 2016. That means it was considered to be in good condition for fishing, recreation and fish consumption.
As a result of upgrades 10 years ago, 75 million gallons a day can get preliminary treatment and 35 million gallons a day can get disinfection and six million gallons per day can get full treatment, said town consultant Gregory Swart, of AES Northeast in Plattsburgh.
He said the system was designed 50 years ago with a philosophy that the sewage could get flushed with storm water to dilute it, not clean it, so that it wouldn’t be harmful to the river. “But that isn’t the philosophy now,” he said, adding that “in Ticonderoga, they get pretty intense rainstorms.” The plant now uses ultraviolet light to cleans the raw sewage before discharge. Delays in installing UV irradiation led to the $43,000 DEC fine three years ago.
The overflows that have been causing the DEC concern are declining and will be under control before long, Swart said. Workers will disband by Thanksgiving and conclude the diversion project in the spring, Swart said. Fleury said the town this year logged five overflows, when more than six million gallons overwhelms the plant – “a lot less than in the past” – and that number should recede once the current project is completed.
Besides Ticonderoga, the DEC is requiring four more area municipalities to replace their combined sewage/storm water systems: Plattsburgh, Glens Falls, Fort Edward and Waterford.
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