The Baker-Polito Administration is awarding a grant to the Connecticut River Clean-up Committee.
(Photograph by Todd Zukowski)
The Connecticut River Clean-Up Committee (CRCC) was formed nearly 30 years ago by the Hampden and Hampshire County communities of Agawam, Chicopee, Holyoke, Ludlow, Springfield, South Hadley, and West Springfield in partnership with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to address the 1.6 billion gallons of untreated wastewater flowing into the Connecticut River annually from our region’s legacy Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) infrastructure.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, sewers in the Pioneer Valley and throughout the country were constructed to carry both sewage and stormwater runoff in the same pipe. This legacy CSO infrastructure - built at a time of little regard for the environment - now causes combined sewer pipes in Springfield, Chicopee and Holyoke to overflow and discharge untreated sewage into the Connecticut River whenever the Valley experiences rain or snow melt. Overflows have a significant negative impact on water quality and the safety of the wide range of wildlife that inhabits the Connecticut River, as well as those residents who enjoy recreational activities such as boating, swimming, and fishing.
The CRCC has successfully worked together to secure funding for the decoupling of this CSO infrastructure throughout the Valley, and has completely eliminated CSOs and their harmful effects to our waterways in Ludlow, Agawam, West Springfield, and South Hadley. While the CRCC has remediated approximately 60% of overflow discharges, there remains over $300 million of work needed in Holyoke, Chicopee, and Springfield to eliminate the CSO problem once and for all.
While federal earmarks (secured in large part with the advocacy of Congressman John Olver, then Chair of the Appropriations Committee) allowed significant swaths of this work to be completed in the 1990s, the end of congressional earmarking and Congressman Olver’s tenure has led this Committee to depend solely on authorizations within the Commonwealth’s Environmental Bond Bill, issued every four years, for any grant assistance with this necessary work.
The 2014 and 2018 Environmental Bond Bills authorized $10 million total in spending specifically for the CRCC, of which $7 million has been allocated through the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, with $1.5 million allocated for Fiscal Year 2021 Capital budget.
Despite our municipalities’ success in leveraging past allocations with additional local and state dollars, ever-tightening municipal budgets and maxed-out rate hikes have nearly exhausted operators’ ability to move CSO de-coupling projects forward without additional State or Federal support.
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The Baker-Polito administration awarded the grant, which will be administered by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, earlier this week.