Vermont Rural Water Spends a Decade Bringing System into Long-Term Sustainability

GILMAN, Vt. – When the paper mill in Gilman, Vt. closed, the wastewater plant took a double hit – first from lost revenue of such a large wastewater customer and then from the economic downturn of hundreds of lost jobs. A decade of assistance from the Vermont Rural Water Association has saved the utility over $125,000 and helped them achieve long-term sustainability.

Lunenburg Fire District 2 manages and operates the water and wastewater systems in Gilman. The improvement involved substantial effort from both the VRWA and Lunenburg 2.

“Truly a team effort with Vermont Rural Water Association and the Lunenburg Fire District # 2,” said Wayne Graham, VRWA Wastewater Specialist. “It stretched the limits of both organizations but the outcome was well worth it.”

One of the first services VRWA provided was leak detection and wastewater infiltration. Graham and Circuit Rider Brent Desranleau regularly provide these services to utilities trying to achieve stability because it reduces the amount of money spent treating water wasted in leaks.

Lunenburg 2 had a 38-year-old wastewater facility that was beginning to show its age. Aerators for the treatment lagoons were beginning to fail. Cold weather led to four breaks in the force main that pumped all the wastewater into the treatment plant.

“The unexpected force main breaks forced the district to move ahead with the upgrade and replacement project,” Graham explained.

The utility received a 75% grant from Vermont USDA to help offset the cost of the replacement.

The replacement of the lagoon aeration systems was a long-term project that required hard-work, ingenuity and support from other utilities. Graham found a wastewater system that had upgraded their lagoons and had aeration equipment they no longer needed. That system donated 40 aerators, hundreds of feet of high density polyethylene piping and dozens of standpipe assemblies to Lunenburg 2. Graham and Lunenburg 2 Superintendent Buddy Ball designed the system based on the donated material. Then Graham, Ball and System Operations Specialist Richard Dresser began installing the system. They installed everything for only $1,000, largely because of Ball’s efforts.

“He mixed a lot of concrete by hand, attained hundreds of feet of galvanized pipe for free and provided lots of labor at no cost to the district,” Graham explained.

The new equipment provided a substantial upgrade to the wastewater treatment operations.  The upgraded aeration system is also more energy efficient, providing electrical savings for the utility.

VRWA also provided support for organizational and managerial improvements to assist Luneburg 2. Graham and Circuit Rider Brent Desranleau helped create an appropriate budget and set sustainable rates for the utility. The donated equipment and work is estimated to have saved the utility over $125,000.

“The lesson in this system achieving long term sustainability is that it takes a team and can be a long process,” Graham said. “But the water and wastewater departments will be enjoying the benefits for years to come, as will the residents of this small community.”