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Failed Bridgewater plant dumps sewage into Ottauquechee

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2021 8:21:16 PM
Modified: 9/17/2021 8:21:23 PM

BRIDGEWATER — A mechanical failure at the Bridgewater sewage treatment plant in August led to the release of 96,200 gallons of partially treated sewage into the Ottauquechee River as of Labor Day, state officials said Friday.

The Agency of Natural Resources sought an emergency enforcement order last week from the Environmental Division of Vermont Superior Court that would suspend all discharges, said Randy Miller, a litigation attorney with the agency. The town applied for an emergency pollution permit, whose approval is pending.

“This is an emergent situation, and the agency has this as one of its highest-priority issues,” Miller said.

Woodstock Fire and EMS officials warned about the issue in a Facebook post on Friday, saying, “Please avoid using the river until further testing is completed and the river is confirmed safe for use.”

The discharge was “gray water,” said Chris Hayes, who works for Simon Operation Services, which runs the Bridgewater facility. The waste had gone through some of the facility’s tanks, so it is not raw sewage, he said. However, Hayes said that the “disinfection rate” of the water is uncertain.

Since the “rotating biological contactor” failed in early August, Hayes has been coordinating vacuum trucks to pump out the waste and transport it to other facilities in the state. However, a series of “hiccups” — including scheduling haulers and finding facilities with enough capacity — has led to intermittent releases into the Ottauquechee River. There were no ongoing discharges, Hayes said. Hayes was able to overnight the part he needs, but the facility is not yet up and running and there could be further discharges if there are more problems with hauling the sewage to other facilities, he said.

Most of the facility’s equipment in Bridgewater dates from the 1970s and needs an upgrade, Hayes said. The town started a project to replace aging equipment, redo the town’s pump station and improve the facility’s inflow and infiltration system three years ago, but it only recently went through the bidding process.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last year said it had authorized $789,000 in loans and grants to Bridgewater to upgrade the facility, which is located along the Ottauquechee River and is in Woodstock, just across the town line with Bridgewater. It serves about 69 connections along the Route 4 corridor, including the Bridgewater Mill.

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

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