Springfield Water and Sewer Commission in line for $251M federal loan for major improvement projects

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has invited the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission to apply for a $251 million low-interest loan for capital improvements including long-awaited upgrades to the West Parish Filters water treatment plant. The loan would save ratepayers approximately $60 million in borrowing costs over the next 20 years, said commission spokeswoman Jaimye Bartak.

The commission is among 55 agencies nationwide invited to apply to the loan program and, the its application is among the largest proposals, officials said. “We are proud to advance to the next round among such a competitive national field for this program,” said Josh Schimmel, the commission’s executive director. The funds are available from approximately $5.1 billion in Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans. The funds go toward an estimated $12 billion in clean water and drinking water infrastructure projects to protect public health and improve water quality, the EPA said. “Knowing what a benefit WIFIA would be in providing rate stability for our customers, we aggressively pursued this funding to move forward with our innovative CIP (capital improvement program),” Schimmel said in a statement. “We are facing an unprecedented need for investment in our century-old drinking water and wastewater system.”

The Springfield regional system is pursuing “critical system upgrades,” Schimmel said. The West Parish Filters water treatment plant, in Westfield, was last modernized in 1974 “and has experienced challenges meeting current regulations related to disinfection byproducts (including HAA5) due to its 1970s technology,” the commission said. In October, the commission reported that water sampling continued to show higher than acceptable levels of HAA5, or haloacetic acids, but stressed that the water is safe to drink. The exceedance was first recorded during sampling conducted in December 2018.

The drinking water, however, was found to be in compliance with regulations for the current quarter, regarding HAA5, Bartak said. The latest samples are from December and follows seven quarters of elevated HAA5, she said. The commission is planning three projects at the water treatment plant, spanning many years, Bartak said. With WIFIA financing, the three projects can be combined into one, beginning in fiscal 2022, at a total cost estimated at $167 million, she said. The loan application will be submitted in February. Springfield’s application is enhanced by targeting close to “shovel-ready” projects, the commission said. The commission’s projects are all in advanced stages of planning or design or are under construction, the commission said.

The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission is an independent, regional public utility that provides drinking water and wastewater service to approximately 250,000 people in the region. The commission is funded primarily by water and sewer rates. The commission also relies on other sources of funds for capital improvements including a state revolving fund and its own bonding capacity reserves, Bartak said.

The commission has a five-year, $500 million capital improvement program. Additional projects include:

  • water transmission and power generation at West Parish Filters
  • upgrades to Cobble Mountain dam diversion gates, which increases system redundancy
  • grit removal system improvements at the headworks of the Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility