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Springfield Water and Sewer Commission plans to build new water plant

a faucet running water
The commission supplies drinking water to roughly 250,000 customers in greater Springfield.

The $200 million project is targeted for completion in 2027

The largest public drinking water supplier in western Massachusetts is planning a major upgrade.

The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission is planning to build a new water filtration plant at an estimated cost of $200 million.

It would replace the current facility in Westfield that was built in the 1970s and will have the latest technology to remove contaminants from the water, said Commission Executive Director Josh Schimmel.

“The plan right now, with the funding sources we have, is completion by 2027,” Schimmel said.

The filtration technology at the existing plant can’t eliminate haloacetic acids from the drinking water. These are byproducts of chlorine, which is used to disinfect the water, reacting with organic materials such as wood and leaves.

Since 2018, test samples of the drinking water after it leaves the filtration plant have periodically found levels of the haloacetic acids that exceed regulatory limits. While not an immediate danger, consumption at high levels over many years can elevate the risk of diseases including bladder cancer.

The commission conducted a pilot study to identify the best way to eliminate the contaminants, but rather than just upgrade to that technology, which would have cost an estimated $75 million, Schimmel said it was decided to build a completely new water treatment plant.

“It became very apparent that the responsible investment was to take a more global look at where we were,” Schimmel said. “We were still going to build that process but we were still going to have to rely on technology for treatment that is 50-100-years-old.”

Speaking at a remote meeting of the Springfield City Council’s Maintenance and Development Committee, Schimmel said the money to pay to design and construct the new water plant will come from a $250 million low-interest loan from the EPA the commission was awarded last year along with a matching $250 million from a state-controlled revolving fund.

These funds will pay for several major water and sewer infrastructure projects, said Schimmel.

“We are saving $80 million on projects over the next 30 years, but we are getting those projects to you in five years instead of 30 and that is just an unbelievable accomplishment,” he said.

City Councilor Mike Fenton voiced concern about the ongoing drinking water contamination violations.

“What makes be a little uncomfortable is how long this problem has been going on, which is four years, and it sounds like we have a few more years before it is cured,” Fenton said.

The quarterly notices the commission mails to its water customers about the violations don’t contain enough information, said City Councilor Maria Perez.

“ There should be more communication with the community,” Perez said.

The wording of the violation notices is dictated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Schimmel said there is more clarity in the annual water quality report the commission sends to each customer.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.