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SWSC, Mayor Ask Region to Imagine a Day Without Water

SWSC joined with Mayor Sarno and regional business leaders at Cobble Mountain Reservoir to Imagine a Day Without Water.

The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, Mayor Domenic Sarno, and industry and public safety leaders gathered at Cobble Mountain Reservoir in Granville on Thursday, October 12, to urge the Springfield region to “Imagine a Day Without Water,” as part of an annual national campaign to bring more attention and awareness to the critical need for investment in water infrastructure.

The event was held at Springfield’s main water supply in Granville, which was built in the early 1930s and supplies 35-45 million gallons of treated drinking water to 250,000 customers in the Springfield region every day. SWSC Executive Director Joshua Schimmel noted that of the over 1,000 miles of water, sewer, and transmission pipe in the system, approximately 44% is over 75 years old, and 25% of it is over a century in age. “It would take $600 million just to make all the necessary upgrades to our pipes, many of which are past the end of their useful life,” he said, noting that treatment plants, pump stations, and other associated infrastructure are also aging and in need of repair. Schimmel recognized the foresight of prior generations in building infrastructure like Cobble Mountain Reservoir that enabled Springfield to grow, and called on elected officials and the public to support the responsibility of utilities to protect that legacy through re-investment.

Mayor Domenic Sarno commended the work of SWSC and declared that “Springfield has the best water in the country.” The high quality, affordability, and overall reliability of the city’s water makes it easy to take for granted, he said, but renewed investment will be needed to support the city’s future development.  He called on elected officials at all levels of government to prioritize increased funding for water infrastructure.

Other speakers included Alex Dixon, General Manager of MGM Springfield, who noted that access to clean, reliable, and great-tasting water was so important to the casino project that it invested approximately $5 million in upgrading water infrastructure around the site. Chris Aberg, Environmental Supervisor for Eastman-Solutia, commented that his company uses approximately 18% of all water treated from Cobble Mountain every year to produce glass resins and protective films that are shipped all over the world. “As a business that operates continuously throughout the year and employs roughly 400 highly skilled people in Springfield, we cannot afford to have one day without water,” Aberg said. Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant described the crisis that would ensue if firefighters could not depend on the availability or pressure required to fight fires. “At Springfield Fire Department we are constantly maintaining and updating our equipment so that we can save as many lives and as much property as possible,” he said. “Since water is a critical tool in any firefighter’s arsenal, why should we treat our water infrastructure any differently?”

Students from a robotics club at the Zanetti Montessori School in Springfield also provided remarks on what a day without water would mean to them, including an inability to brush their teeth or shower – but also a break from washing the dishes. The students are currently developing projects related to water conservation.

Imagine a Day Without Water is a national awareness event coordinated by the Value of Water Campaign. For more information visit:  www.thevalueofwater.org. For information on SWSC, visit: www.waterandsewer.org.


SWSC Hosts State Legislative Members

The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission (SWSC), along with top leadership from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), hosted members of the Springfield region’s state legislative delegation for the first time on Monday to discuss challenges facing the regional water and wastewater system. Impending issues related to an aging workforce and infrastructure; state vs. federal permitting authority; and funding to meet new environmental regulations were central points of the meeting, which was held in the c. 1974 wastewater treatment facility on Bondi’s Island in Agawam.

Rep. Brian Ashe, Rep. Angelo Puppolo, Rep. Jose Tosado, Rep. Nicholas Boldyga, and staff of Sen. Jim Welch were in attendance. SWSC Chairwoman Vanessa Otero and Executive Director Joshua Schimmel emphasized the importance of establishing a working relationship with elected officials at a time when there are expanding environmental, regulatory, health and safety, and financial challenges facing the water and wastewater sector. Otero noted in particular that much of the Commission’s workforce was nearing retirement age. After a large national effort in the 1970s to train and recruit workers for jobs in the water sector was not followed up in subsequent decades, the Commission finds itself challenged to fill upcoming retirements. The Commission is currently working with Springfield Technical Community College to revive a training and certification program for new water and wastewater operators. “Once again it is time to focus on training the next generation,” Otero said, asking lawmakers to find ways to partner with the Commission to cultivate workers for jobs that offer “good pay, security, and a fulfilling career.”

The age of Springfield’s infrastructure was also a prominent focus of discussion. Recalling recent trips to the White House to participate in infrastructure planning summits, Schimmel noted that transportation issues dominated national-level conversations, despite a $3.5 trillion need to update water and wastewater infrastructure in the country, and a $2.4 billion need in Massachusetts alone. Of the Commission’s approximately 1,000 miles of water, sewer, and transmission pipe, 44% is over 75 years old. “This is not a partisan issue,” Schimmel said. “The simple fact is that much of Springfield’s water infrastructure is a century old, and not addressing that soon will have major implications on the region’s economy going forward. Even more so than transportation, without reliable water and wastewater service, there is no development.” Schimmel requested that lawmakers consider providing more water infrastructure funding in Massachusetts.

Increasing environmental regulations stand to compete for funds that are needed to upgrade infrastructure, with federal regulations often not factoring in local environmental or economic conditions. MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg spoke about pending legislation to assume control of the federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, which directs much water and wastewater treatment facility operations. Currently, Massachusetts is one of only four remaining states where the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the NPDES program. Gov. Charlie Baker introduced legislation in the spring (H.B. 2777) to allow MassDEP to apply for NPDES delegation. “MassDEP is confident in its ability to administer this important water quality program,” said Commissioner Suuberg. “Administering this program will help ensure that the Commonwealth and its communities are taking a big-picture approach to directing resources towards the greatest water quality improvement, and working effectively with cities, towns and other stakeholders.”