EASTHAMPTON — A water infrastructure bill has passed the Senate, which in turn will lead to Easthampton being authorized $10 million in federal Environmental Infrastructure assistance to improve the city’s water outflow system.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Malden) who is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Cambridge) both applauded the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2024 through the Senate Environment and Public works Committee.

WRDA is the biannual bill to authorize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects that support the nation’s water infrastructure.

The legislation passed includes several major priorities to address local needs across the commonwealth and authorizes projects to prevent coastal erosion, manage flood risks and improve overall water infrastructure in the state.

“In the Bay State, WRDA stands for Water Risks Demand Action. This legislation takes action for Massachusetts residents and delivers much needed resources for communities,” said Markey in a statement. “From historic flooding along the Connecticut River to dangerous coastal erosion on Cape Cod, Massachusetts is experiencing the frontline effects of climate change. Our communities need support, and I’m proud to say the Water Resources Development Act of 2024 delivers critical water infrastructure projects right on time.”

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said the city was thrilled to hear the news that this funding was moving a step closer to helping the city address its wastewater outflow system. While work with the Army Corps of Engineers has not officially begun, the city has had the project prepped and ready for action if presented the opportunity through funding.

“We had brought this to the federal government’s attention two fiscal years ago,” LaChapelle explained.
LaChapelle said that with the city only having this one outfall pipe for its wastewater that dumps into the Connecticut River, it is important for a project like this to be addressed in order to repair and maintain the system for the community wastewater system’s overall health.

DPW Director Greg Nuttleman said that the need for rehabilitation was initially identified in 2018.

“The need for lining and rehabilitation of this pipe was identified in the city’s 2018 Integrated Water Resources Management Plan and is a very costly project for the city to undertake without state or federal funding assistance.”

The four-mile pipe stretches throughout the city into the Connecticut River and is now in need of maintenance due to its age and natural causes due to flooding.

“If it breaks, it’s not good,” LaChapelle said.

After making this case under a program around only water infrastructure two fiscal years ago, the city was finally notified by Markey’s office a few months ago about a new block of money available through the Army Corp of Engineers around environmental justice, and specifically covers outfalls like Easthampton’s.

Nuttleman explained that this type of funding is critical for municipalities across the country.

“Public utilities throughout the country are facing increased capital, operating and maintenance costs. Funding that shifts the burden of these costs away from ratepayers and assists utilities in providing resilient and reliable infrastructure, is crucial as we work on overcoming the challenges presented by aging infrastructure.”

LaChapelle added the technical support of the Army Corps of Engineers is unmatched as they worked with the city previously on the Nashawannuck Pond project. She added that with it being an environmental justice project the local match required by the city has fallen from 50% to 25%.

“It’s a game changer for our stormwater management plan. This is $10 million off of a $22 million plan. We have an integrated stormwater management plan and our consultants said about three years ago we need to spend about $22.5 million in those 5 years and we have not, but $10 million is a hunk of a big chunk,” LaChapelle said. “It’s a Caitlin Clark 3-point shot. That’s how I feel right now. We were speechless, but it was like Caitlin Clark mid-court, hitting a three.”

Nuttleman added that there is no timeline for the work yet as the funding has not yet been fully approved, but said the project could lead to an additional 75 to 100 years of service life for this part of the city’s infrastructure.
Managing Editor Dennis Hackett contributed to this report.