The development of the Commission’s present-day water and wastewater systems began in the mid-nineteenth century and tracked the city and region’s growth. In the 21st century, much of the original system components remain in operation, and the Commission’s water and wastewater service remains essential to the everyday life and economic activity of the region.
The water system in Springfield developed in phases in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to that time, most of Springfield’s water source came from private wells, local streams, or springs. Formation of the Springfield Aqueduct Company in 1848 facilitated the use of Van Horn Reservoir, which became the city’s primary water source. As population in the city increased during the Civil War due to industrialization, the city began investigating new water supplies. Ludlow Reservoir was completed in 1875 and its 1.75 billion gallon supply became the city’s main water source for the next 35 years.
In the early twentieth century, the continuing expansion of the city drove the development of a new water supply 20 miles to the west of the city in the Little River Watershed. In 1910 Borden Brook Reservoir in Granville became the main water supply for the city, with treatment taking place at the newly constructed West Parish Filters Water Treatment Plant in Westfield. The main water supply changed get again in 1931, when Cobble Mountain Reservoir in Blandford/Granville was completed. Borden Brook feeds into Cobble Mountain Reservoir and both reservoirs remain the main water supplies for the system today, while Ludlow Reservoir serves as an emergency water supply.
The system was operated by the Springfield Water Department until 1996, when the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission was established under Chapter 40N of the Massachusetts General Laws. Today the Commission and its approximately 230 employees administer, operate, and maintain both the drinking water and wastewater systems that serve approximately 250,000 people in the lower Pioneer Valley.
Surrounding Borden Brook and Cobble Mountain Reservoirs are 31,000 acres (48.5 square miles) of rural forested land. Of that, approximately 47% is owned by the Commission for water supply protection purposes, and an additional 10% is protected by public and non-profit organizations. Land protection is the best approach to reduce the susceptibility of water supplies to contamination. The Commission actively manages the watershed forest it owns to promote biodiversity and resiliency, as well as to protect it from encroachments. Active management includes monitoring boundaries, managing invasive species and wildlife issues, and developing and implementing forest management plans. The Commission also pursues land acquisition opportunities in the Little River watershed as they arise.
Another 1,400 acres of protected forest surrounds Ludlow Reservoir, which is an emergency backup supply. Passive public recreation is allowed in Ludlow Reservoir.
Water from Cobble Mountain Reservoir flows by gravity to the West Parish Filters Water Treatment Plant in Westfield. There, water is filtered to remove particles, organics, and any other impurities. Then the pH of the water is adjusted and corrosion inhibitors are added to protect home plumbing from the leaching of lead and copper. Finally, chlorine is added to disinfect the water from pathogens. Chlorine was in use in the United States as early as 1910, and was first utilized at West Parish Filters in 1965. Chlorinated water is credited as one of the major public health achievements of the twentieth century and with virtually eliminating waterborne disease in developed countries.
West Parish Filters was constructed in 1909. Originally treatment consisted of filtration through large underground “slow sand” filter chambers. West Parish Filters Water Treatment Plant was substantially modernized in 1974, the same year as the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. More effective and efficient “rapid sand” filters were added as well as flocculation chambers for the coagulation and removal of dissolved material.
Today some slow sand filters remain in use during peak demand periods. Water production ranges from 30 million gallons/day (MGD) to 50 MGD, depending on the season. The on-site laboratory also analyzes approximately 50,000 samples per year. Between fall 2019 and summer 2020 isolated pilot testing was conducted to add a new treatment process to the plant, following a comprehensive master planning effort that commenced in 2015. The new upgrades will enable compliance with 21st century regulations.
Built in 1930, the Cobble Mountain Hydro-Power Station is located in the Town of Granville, Massachusetts. The plant utilizes the flow of water from Cobble Mountain Reservoir to generate green power as water is conveyed to the West Parish Filters Water Treatment Plant. The electricity generated is sold to the ISO New England electricity market. At full capacity, the plant can produce 33 Megawatts/hour through three turbine generators.
The Commission is currently in an agreement with Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) to manage, operate, and maintain the station. HG&E also facilitates the sale of power to the ISO New England market. The Commission controls and limits the amount of water available for power generation to ensure safe provisions of water under various seasonal conditions.
After leaving West Parish Filters Water Treatment Plant, water travels through transmission mains to three underground storage tanks within Provin Mountain in Agawam. The storage tanks hold approximately 15 million gallons and maintain pressure for the system as well as sufficient supply in case of sudden large-scale usage such as a fire or water main break. The tanks range were constructed between 1909 and 1960, with the oldest tank taken permanently offline in 2019.
Staff stationed at Provin Mountain oversee maintenance and operation of the Provin Mountain tanks as well as the transmission mains running through Westfield, Agawam, and West Springfield.
From the Provin Mountain storage tanks, treated water flows by gravity into mains beneath the Connecticut River on to the water distribution system in Springfield and Ludlow. Most of the water travels by gravity except for five pumps that provide increased pressure in higher elevation areas. There are 597 miles miles of pipe in the water distribution system. Approximately 26%, or 151 miles, of that pipe is over 100 years old.
Within the distribution system, the Commission owns 6,224 hydrants and close to 20,000 valves that it regularly exercises and maintains.
The Commission provides wholesale drinking water to the communities of Agawam, East Longmeadow, and Longmeadow. Partial or peak demand service is provided to Southwick, Westfield, and West Springfield. The Commission is also equipped to provide an emergency water supply to Chicopee and Wilbraham.
The Commission owns and maintains 471 miles of wastewater collection mains throughout the city of Springfield. Included in the system are over 11,000 manholes, 27 pump stations, and 7 flood control stations. There are also 23 combined sewer overflow (CSO) outfalls located throughout the system, which carry wastewater combined with stormwater during rain events. There are approximately 150 miles of combined sewer, which dates back to the original development of the sewer system a century ago. The pump and flood control stations and CSOs are maintained by the Commission’s contracted operator SUEZ.
Wastewater from residences and businesses in the city of Springfield flows through the collection system to the Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility on Bondi’s Island in Agawam. Large interceptor pipes also convey wastewater from the communities of Ludlow, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Agawam, and West Springfield to the treatment facility.
The Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility (SRWTF) is located on Bondi’s Island, off Route 5 in Agawam. The SRWTF is owned by the Commission and currently operated and maintained by SUEZ through a service agreement. The facility processes approximately 40 million gallons/day and has a built capacity to treat up to 67 million gallons/day.
Wastewater treatment consists of two major processes: primary treatment and secondary treatment. The original facility built in the late 1930s only conducted primary treatment; secondary treatment was added when the facility was modernized in 1977 following adoption of the Clean Water Act in 1972.
During primary treatment, solids and other grit are removed. In secondary treatment, bacteria further break down dissolved solids, producing sludge or “biosolids.” Biosolids are separated from the wastewater and hauled to off-site disposal facilities. Wastewater receives a final dose of disinfection with chlorine to eliminate any remaining pathogens, and the chlorine is then removed, before release into the Connecticut River.
Discharge (or “effluent”) into the Connecticut River is done in compliance with the facility’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issues by the Environmental Protection Agency. Effluent is tested and monitored daily at the facility’s on-site laboratory.
The History of Bondi’s Island
Luigi Bondi immigrated from Italy with his wife and children in the late 1800s. He was a successful owner of a produce business, and purchase an island on the Connecticut River in 1889 for $100. It is not clear if the land he purchased was actually an island at the time, but local lore identifies an island just under the west end of the Memorial Bridge. Mr. Bondi is also thought to have purchased land in West Springfield surrounded on three sides by water (the Connecticut and Agawam Rivers), which were known as Big Island and Hermit Island (also known as Little Island or Campbell’s Island).
Mr. Bondi tended to peach trees on the island for his produce business and had plans to create a recreation area in the future. Over time the water changed course and the two islands became one, which is the location of the wastewater treatment plant today. Though Mr. Bondi’s island never became a recreational area like he intended, it has become a center of the region’s environmental protection.