Paddling in protest: Boaters call attention to water pollution

Winooski River
A sign marks where Montpelier’s wastewater system sends sewage into the Winooski River’s North Branch during heavy rains. Photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger
Protesting the release of raw sewage into Vermont rivers and streams, dozens of boaters embarked in kayaks and canoes upon the Winooski River on Thursday, prompting small crowds to form on Montpelier’s downtown bridges to gape at the flotilla shouting below.

The demonstrators sought to end Montpelier’s practice of sending raw human waste into that same river when heavy rain exceeds the city’s sewage treatment plant’s capacity.

Montpelier has one of 68 “combined sewage overflow” systems in the state, and this type of system combines sewage and stormwater during heavy rains, sending them both untreated into surface waters across Vermont.

“Cities like Montpelier that think they’re green and environmentally friendly are inadvertently polluting their neighbors downstream” as a result of these systems, said Robb Kidd, the Sierra Club’s Vermont chapter representative and one of the float’s organizers.

The push for Montpelier to clean up its own water is tied to a larger push across the state for farmers, developers and others to cause less harm to Vermont’s surface waters, Kidd said.

“In my opinion, until we address all areas of water pollution, we’ll keep pointing fingers at everybody,” Kidd said.

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