Tests Again Find Higher Than Allowed Levels Of A Contaminant In Springfield Drinking Water

Apr 12, 2019

The Cobble Mountain Reservoir, seen here, is the primary source of drinking water for 250,000 people in greater Springfield, Massachusetts.
Credit WAMC

A $70 million project is being planned to remove a contaminant from the drinking water used by 250,000 people in western Massachusetts.

A major project to upgrade the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission’s antiquated water treatment plant is expected to lower the levels of haloacetic acids in the tap water after construction is completed in 2025.

The contamination occurs when the chlorine used to disinfest the water reacts with high levels of organic matter, such as leaves, wood, and plant residue, that rain and melting snow wash in to the Coble Mountain Reservoir.

These elevated levels of haloacetic acids are not an immediate health hazard, according to the commission’s executive director Josh Schimmel.

"Springfield water is safe and still a fantastic product we deliver right to your door," said Schimmel.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection requires testing for the compounds because studies have suggested that exposure to high levels over many years can cause health problems.

Tests of water samples collected in December 2018 and in March 2019 found levels of haloacetic acids above the regulatory limits.   The March levels were lower than in December.

Notices about the test results were sent to customers in their water bills.  The commission is planning a public meeting on April 22nd at Springfield City Hall to answer questions about the test results.

"We understand people are really concerned about their water and they should be," said Schimmel.  

He said planning for major improvements at the water treatment plant have been underway for two years.  A 12- month pilot project set to start this summer is designed to determine the best technology to build into the plant to remove the organic material from the water before it is treated with chlorine.

"We are continuing to step through a methodical process to take the right technical approach to solving these issues," said Schimmel.

At a hearing of the Springfield City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, City Councilor Tim Allen said he found the commission’s response to the water contamination “disconcerting.”

Allen said the plan to "fix it in six years" is "just not good enough" to protect the health of the citizens of Springfield.

The committee plans to hold a hearing with representatives of the MassDEP and the city’s public health agency.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs recently announced a $300,000 grant to the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission to help protect the water supply.

Schimmel said it will pay for the purchase of an additional 527 acres of forest land in the watershed of the Cobble Mountain Reservoir.

"By controlling that land we have an opporunity to better manage that forest and when you better manage that forest you are managing the water that gets into (the) reservoir." explained Schimmel.

The Southampton Water Commission received a $216,000 grant to preserve 15 acres of forested land around the town’s drinking water source.  

A $41,000 grant went to the Amherst Water Department to preserve two pieces of property in the Pelham watershed.