Springfield Water and Sewer Commission featured in federal EPA report on how it faces water infrastructure challenges, priorities

SPRINGFIELD — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently featured the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission in a report to Congress regarding how communities nationwide are developing plans to address water infrastructure challenges and priorities with multimillion dollar price tags.

In a news release, the commission said the EPA’s June report highlighted 13 communities from around the country that have put “Integrated Planning” into action to address their infrastructure challenges, done through permits, orders or judicial decrees.

Springfield was included “as a model for other utilities facing similar challenges such as combined sewer overflows (CSO), aging infrastructure, and the need to keep rates affordable while maintaining water and wastewater services,” said Josh Schimmel, the commission’s executive director.

Under that integrated planning process, the water/wastewater utilities “choose the most beneficial approaches for setting priorities and taking effective actions for achieving water quality goals,” including protecting rivers from sewage overflows, the EPA report says.

The Springfield commission issued the first “Integrated Wastewater Plan” in the nation in 2014, Schimmel said. The plan was implemented under an order from the EPA, the federal agency reported.

The EPA said the Springfield program’s “data driven strategy helped create a prioritized list of needs based on risks and consequences of failure.”

Projects include separating old pipes carrying both rainwater and wastewater. Springfield was ordered to address frequent sewer overflows that were discharging sewage into the Connecticut River and Mill River, particularly during heavy rain, officials said.

The total cost of the submitted plan through 2035 is projected to be $447.2 million, with an estimated 89% annual reduction in combined sewer outflow volume upon completion, the EPA said.

The commission describes itself as an independent, regional public utility that provides drinking water and wastewater service to approximately 250,000 people in the lower Pioneer Valley. It is primarily funded by water and sewer rates, and is overseen by a three-member commission.

Schimmel said the commission is well on its way with several large-scale projects “that address pressing needs such as CSO reduction, lack of resiliency, system redundancy, and infrastructure renewal.”

That includes ongoing construction of the York Street pump station and Connecticut River crossing project, Schimmel said. The project includes a new wastewater pump station on York Street and a new river pipeline crossing under the Connecticut River in the city’s South End connecting to the Bondi’s Island regional wastewater treatment plant.

The commission said its Integrated Wastewater Plan puts it in a more competitive position for obtaining state and federal grants and financing opportunities.

The commission recently secured $251 million in low-interest financing for infrastructure projects from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. In addition, it will receive financing from the Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds, the commission said.

New Beford’s water utility was also featured in the report. Other utilities from around the United States featured include Atlanta; Boone, Iowa; Columbia and Springfield, Missouri; Akron, Columbus and Lima, Ohio; Johnson County, and Lawrence, Kansas; Richmond, Virginia; and Seattle.

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