Sewage leak prompts push for better protection of Lake Memphremagog

By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Sewage leak prompts push for better protection of Lake Memphremagog

Quebec officials at the provincial and municipal levels are demanding more transparency from Vermont, after the state failed to notify the province about a sewage leak in Newport City that seeped into the Lake Memphremagog in late September.
Although Newport City officials concluded the amount of sewage is not enough to harm people who use the lake for drinking water, Memphremagog Conservation Inc. (MCI) President Robert Benoit considers this a moot point.
“I don’t care if it’s one gallon or 500,000 gallons, we should be aware of it,” he said.
The problem, according to Benoit, is the lack of communication about the sewage leak between Vermont and Quebec. If it weren’t for MCI’s connections in the United States of America, Quebec may have only been privy to the situation at a much later date.
Lake Memphremagog provides drinking water to roughly 150,000 Quebecers. According to the Associated Press, Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation “sends out alerts via text and email” when there is a leak or overflow from a pump station.
But Quebec is not signed up to receive these notifications. Benoit read about the situation on Sept. 23 in a Vermont-based newspaper. He attached a link to the article in an email blast to MCI’s mailing list, which includes politicians in Magog and Sherbrooke.
Benoit was shocked by the responses he received the following day. Magog’s municipal council new nothing about the leak, he explained, and neither did Sherbrooke Mayor Steve Lussier, who called Benoit after a radio interview discussing the situation in Vermont.
“I wake up and I say ‘what is going on here,’ we’re drinking this water and these people don’t know about it […] these guys in Sherbrooke and Magog with huge offices and big expenses, and here I am, Robert Benoit, calling to tell them about a leak in Newport,” Benoit said.
Don’t Undermine Memphremagog’s Purity (DUMP), a grassroots group fighting to shut down Vermont’s Coventry landfill, informed MCI’s president about the leak. They also wrote a letter to state officials asking why they didn’t immediately reach out to Quebec.
If there is a positive to take away from this situation, according to Benoit, it’s that a drop of sewage from Newport City takes about two years to reach the Rivière Magog. It would take a major leak to see any real consequences, except for people living in Potton, he continued.
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