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Water And Sewer Improvement Work Underway

crews work to repair a hole in a street

    Work started Monday at the first of nearly two-dozen locations in the city of Springfield where improvements are planned this year to an urban water and sewer infrastructure, parts of which date back to the 1800s.

   Water and sewer pipes will be upgraded at various locations as part of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission’s annual infrastructure improvements project.  The work comes a few months after a water main break opened up a sinkhole in downtown Springfield that raised concerns about what is happening underground.

  The commission announced the locations for this year’s construction work on its website and appealed for drivers to be patient in the construction zones and seek alternate routes if possible.  More than 7,400 feet of water main pipe will be replaced, approximately 10,000 feet of sewer main pipe will replaced or rehabilitated and about 50 manholes replaced or repaired.

The commission will spend almost $100 million on capital projects over the next three years, according to executive director Joshua Schimmel.

"We look at where we have consequence of failure. Where we are exposed in terms of not having redundant systems we make that a priority. So, a lot of the bigger projects are redundancy projects to make sure we can the water from the source down to Springfield, " explained Schimmel.

Money to pay for the infrastructure work comes from ratepayers. Rates increased as of July 1st, with the typical residential water and sewer bill estimated to increase by an average of $36.60 annually.

       The state of the city’s underground utility infrastructure was the topic of a public forum in June that followed a water main break a month earlier at Main and Bridge Streets.  The busy intersection was closed to traffic for a week following the break because repairs had to made to utility conduits carrying wires for electricity and communications.

Schimmel told the conference that the city’s drinking water system, with more than a thousand miles of pipes, is safe and reliable.

" Nobody has a crystal ball, so I can't tell you where the next water main break will be. But there will be one. It is the nature of the business. What we do is our due diligence. We plan accordingly, we invest properly and  keep rates affordable," said Schimmel.

Springfield Director of Public Works Chris Cignoli said the infrastructure may be old, but it is not in poor condition.

" Most of the things that happen is not because the pipes just fail. It is because there is construction around ( the water pipe) or something hit it.  The system itself is in very very good condition," said Cignoli.

City Councilor Kateri Walsh, chairperson of the Maintenance and Development Committee, said hearing about how the public utilities that supply water, natural gas, and electricity to Springfield spend tens of millions of dollars annually on infrastructure repairs and upgrades put her mind at rest.

"There are a lot of questions from the public because there is so much publicity anytime there is a water main break or something goes wrong.  But we found out today all the things that are going right," said Walsh.

Brand new pipes are being installed to deliver water and sewer service and power to the $950 million MGM casino complex that is being built in downtown Springfield.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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