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Much still needs to be done in cleaning Connecticut River

Date: 9/27/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – The image of two rowers coming out of the morning mist from the Connecticut River provided an image that was used by several speakers at a program on Sept. 20 celebrating the progress made in cleaning the river.

Hosted by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), elected officials, environmentalists and others gathered at the Jones Ferry Marina to hear how local efforts have helped bring the river back over the last 20 years.

Timothy Brennan, executive director of the PVPC, said the Connecticut River had been described as “the best landscaped sewer in America” prior to the efforts to address its pollution.

He called what has happened since 1993 and the formation of a local group of cities in towns to find common solution of cleaning up the river, “a remarkable transformation.”

He said the effort to improve the river as “an enormous task.” Brennan added, “It’s been difficult and expensive.”

The job is not yet done as about half of the combined sewer overflows (CSO), have been addressed, as noted by several speakers.

A product of engineering almost a century old, the CSO system of a sewer pipe can allow rainwater to flush untreated sewage into the river.

“There has been a transformation, but it’s not finished,” Brennan said.

Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette contrasted the two rowers coming from the river with his memories of the river as a boy growing up in Chicopee of watching the various colors of chemicals in the water discharged by industries.

William Fuqua, superintendent of the Holyoke Department of Public Works and the chair of the Connecticut River Clean-up Committee and Chief Planner Christopher Curtis of PVPC explained the 1972 federal Clean Water Act started the process, which prompted the construction of wastewater treatment facilities, among other measures.

By 1993, Environmental Protection Agency mandates about CSOs caused communities to face the expensive problem of replacing sewer lines and adding treatment facilities.

Fuqua said that in 1988 among the seven communities in the committee there were 134 CSO emptying waste in the Connecticut or its tributaries. Now after millions of dollars, 52 percent of the CSOs have been eliminated and the volume of waste has been decreased by 60 percent.

There had been 1.7 billion gallons of polluted water flowing into the river from CSOs, but now 1 billion gallons have reduced that amount.

All of the CSOs along the 18 miles of Chicopee River have been corrected, Fuqua noted.

The process has been expensive, as Bissonnette noted in Chicopee 25 percent of the CSOs that remain to be fixed will cost an estimated $125 million.

Former Congressman John Olver was honored by the group for his effort to secure federal funding for CSO projects.