SPRINGFIELD — Two Springfield city councilors, who conducted a hearing on June 13 about increases in the city’s water rates and the safety of the water, are satisfied with the answers to questions they posed to representatives of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission.

City Councilor Brian Santaneillo told Reminder Publishing the increase in rates in “absolutely justified” based on the commission’s list of projects it plans to undertake to ensure continued water safety.

“I think they [the commission] are doing an excellent job,” he added.

In April, the commission announced it would increase water rates for fiscal year 2025 an average 6.3%, which means a rate increase for residential customers of $7.99 per month.

The commission serves 250,000 customers retail drinking water service to Springfield and Ludlow; regional drinking water treatment to Agawam, Longmeadow and East Longmeadow; and emergency/peak service to Westfield, Southwick, West Springfield, Chicopee and Wilbraham. The commission provides retail wastewater service to Springfield and regional wastewater treatment to West Springfield, Agawam, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Wilbraham and Ludlow.

The commission’s Executive Director Josh Schimmel said at the time, “The commission is proposing a modest rate increase in the context of a generational amount of capital work currently underway. We are always mindful of the impact of rate increases on our customers, but also of the even higher costs of not reinvesting in our essential water and wastewater systems. The commission will continue to steward its capital program in an efficient manner to support predictable and stable rate increases. Ratepayers will benefit from this reinvestment through the elimination of risks associated with century-old or obsolete infrastructure that threaten service reliability and compliance with modern regulations.”

Katie Shea, the commission’s educational outreach manager, explained the increases are necessary to fund the list of essential projects and there will be rate increases over the next several years to pay for these projects.

“All are critical projects,” she added.

The rate increases are to cover costs of chemicals, labor and insurance.

The commission’s written statement noted, “The Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Renewal Program will revitalize the region’s water and wastewater systems over the next six years through over 20 critical infrastructure upgrades. This includes a new estimated $325 million West Parish Water Treatment Plant, which will replace infrastructure that has been in continuous use for over 50 years (and in some cases over a century) and resolve regulatory compliance issues with disinfection byproducts. Construction contracts are currently out for bid for the project. Demolition and construction will start later in 2024, with the new plant scheduled to be complete in 2028.”

Shea added the West Parish Water Treatment Plant was built in the 1970s and is considered “aging infrastructure.” Because of changes made in regulation governing water safety, the plant is out-of-date. The new plant will meet all new requirements and will address issues caused by climate change, she added.
The rate increases are not the only source of funding for the projects. The Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Renewal Program is being financed through a $250 million low-interest loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, and through low-interest loans from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. Additional funding is coming through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

The commission has programs to help customers manage their water and sewer bills, including payment plans and programs for low-income customers.

In FY25, the commission is proposing to increase its discount for senior, disabled, and disabled veteran homeowners from $99/year to $108/year. The Customer Assistance Program also remains available to single-family/owner-occupied homeowners that qualify for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

City Councilor Tim Allen did not respond to a request for comment by press time.