November 24, 2014
Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett
EOEEA, Attn: MEPA Office
Deirdre Buckley, EOEA No. 11525
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114
Subject: City of Springfield Long-Term CSO Control Plan and Final Environmental Impact Report EOEA# 11525
Dear Secretary Bartlett,
I am submitting comments on the City of Springfield’s Final Long-Term Combined Sewer Overflow Control Plan (LTCP) and Final Environmental Impact Report on behalf of the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC). CRWC is the principal nonprofit environmental advocate for protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its watershed.
The Connecticut River does not meet Class B warm water fishery standards in this stretch of the river because of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and other discharges. The river is considered impaired and requires a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for pathogens, suspended solids, and priority organics. Nevertheless, the river is an integral part of life in Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, Agawam, Longmeadow, and West Springfield. Holyoke is widely known for its excellent shad fishing, while the confluence of the Chicopee and Connecticut Rivers are a draw for striped bass fishing. Bike paths line the river in Springfield and Agawam. Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club at North Riverfront Park now offers boat rentals, rowing opportunities and dragon boat racing on the Connecticut River right in Springfield. Six Flags New England and the Basketball Hall of Fame are both located on the banks of the river in Agawam and Springfield, respectively, bringing thousands of visitors to the region each year. The proposed MGM casino is going to be built fairly close to the Connecticut River in downtown Springfield, potentially bringing more people to the city. American eagles have started nesting in this area in recent years. This area’s connection with the Connecticut River offers many economic and recreational opportunities, all of which would be greatly enhanced by a cleaner river.
CRWC is highly supportive of projects eliminating CSOs, and we look forward to the day when the Connecticut River will be swimmable and fishable.
We support the basic principles laid out in the 2012 cover letter to the LTCP, that the largest CSO reductions be done in the first phases, that the maximum risk reduction for wastewater infrastructure in the first phases of the program, the program be flexible and expandable as conditions change, and that the SWSC continue to provide reliable wastewater service.
Our specific comments are below.
1. The selected rainfall event for the CSO control plan is the “Typical Year” event which uses 1976 as an average of the 1955-1998 rainfall years and does not represent the 1-year or even the 3-month statistical rainfalls normally used for analysis. Use of the Typical Year event will produce much smaller controls and lead to more frequent and higher volumes of overflow during the rainfalls closer to the 3-month and 1-year events.
The two big CSO treatment facilities in Chicopee and Holyoke have been in place a number of years, and they were both designed to discharge 4 times under the “average year” of 1976 storm conditions. In 2013, Jones Ferry CSO treatment facility in Chicopee discharged untreated waste 5 times and Berkshire Street CSO treatment facility in Holyoke discharged 11 times. We have been unable to find out whether these two facilities have ever discharged 4 or fewer times in other years. However, state and federal regulators need to make sure that the LTCPs for each CSO and all of the projects designed to help the cities meet state surface water quality standards are based on current and predicted climate models, not based on past climate.
For example, Table 5-13 in the LTCP lists the annual precipitation as 43.37 inches between 1955 and1997, and an annual precipitation of 42.18 inches in the 1976 “annual year.” By comparison, the Northeast Regional Climate Center shows the entire state of Massachusetts in the range of 47-50 inches per year between 1981 and 2010, below.
Table 2-12 of the LTCP gives a model design storm of 1.8 inches/hour for a 15-minute peak intensity 1-year storm. By comparison, the graph below from the Northeast Regional Climate Center out of Cornell University shows the following graph for Hampden County, Massachusetts. The 15-minute peak intensity 1-year storm below appears to be in the area of 2.25 inches/hour, which is quite a bit higher than 1.8 in the LTCP.
It is not clear to us that the continued use of 1976 as a Typical Year remains valid in the design of CSO projects along the Connecticut River that are being proposed for implementation over the next one to four decades. This design standard lacks consideration of how climate change is projected to alter rainfall patterns over the coming decades. And if an LTCP is allowed to project cost and revenue changes over 20, 30, or 40 years into the future, it seems odd to design projects based on 40-year old climate data with no consideration of future changes.
2. The report selects a control plan leading to 8 overflows per year (using an average year that we feel may not be representative of current and future climate considerations). This level of control has not been accepted in other communities. It is our understanding that the standard is a range of 0 to 4 overflow events the acceptable control level. Hartford, which has similar CSO issues, is designing for the 1-year storm control with 0 overflow events just several miles south of Springfield on the Connecticut River.
3. The report evaluates the affordability of the project and shows the household sewer rate rising to $1,553 by 2051 or about $130 per month over the next forty years. Using Table 10.14 of the LTCP, it appears the LCCP assumed median household income will go from $35,783 in 2011 to $79,234 in 2051, a little more than doubling over a 40-year period. This projection seems to be based on a 2% cost of living adjustment increase each year. CRWC questions the validity of this assumption. After all, the U.S. median income in 1972 was $8,424 and was $49,486 in 2012, 40 years later according to the U.S. Census Bureau and cited in http://www.davemanuel.com/median-household-income.php. That is a 6-fold increase rather than a doubling. What happened in the past may have no bearing on the future, but the assumption made for this report seems low. The report also does not indicate any grant or low interest loan support for the project from the State or EPA, which could lower the debt service. In 2014, the Environmental Bond included $10 million for CSO cleanup along the Connecticut River, which will need to be appropriated. Deval Patrick signed the Water Infrastructure Bill into law in August 2014, and this increases the amount of money available for low interest loans for water and sewer infrastructure projects. We also advocate for restoring seer debt relief funding.
EPA guidance indicates, as is noted on page 5-11 of the Integrated Wastewater Plan (IWP), that, “Since flexibility is an important aspect of the CSO Policy, Permittees are encouraged to submit any additional documentation that would create a more accurate and complete picture of their financial capability.”
Both the FLTCP and IWP include a great deal of additional documentation about the past and present challenges facing Springfield, which we agree are certainly relevant. However there is next to no information about the other communities in the service area of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission (SWSC). To this end it appears to us that there is room to provide more information on the financial capability of these communities. These communities provide income in the Non-Rate Revenue category and are classified as “wholesale service” areas of the Commission’s jurisdiction. The table below lists these communities and median household income (MHI) from 2010 or 2012:
West Springfield 54,434
East Longmeadow 77,155
All of these communities within the SWSC service area have MHI above Springfield’s and are at or above the Massachusetts and national averages. As well they have lower unemployment rates than Springfield’s. However there is no indication in the financial capability assessment how the MHI, employment, or other statistics from these communities impact the overall burden assessments. It seems that it would be reasonable to conduct the same level of detailed analysis by census tract in these communities to see how wholesale wastewater collection revenue could be assessed in ways that would support the burden imposed on the City of Springfield.
Barring an ability to replicate the analysis conducted for the City of Springfield, we are left with noting a mismatch between the rate and extent of increase in expenses that are paid by non-rate revenue and the rate and extent of non-rate revenue increases itself. These expenses increase far more than revenue. Since we are unable to determine from the Financial Capability Assessments how the surrounding communities are assessed collection and treatment revenue, it is unclear whether they are assessed appropriate fees over the life of the analysis.
In Table 10.7 (page 10-13 of the LTCP) Wastewater Collection revenue increases from $1.066M in 2011 to $1.205M in 2051, which accounting for inflation is net decrease in revenue over the 40 year time period. A straight 3% CPI on revenue for this category would bring in $3.477M in 2051, rather than the $1.205M. Corresponding to this net decrease in revenue over time there is an increase in the O&M costs for wastewater collection (including the Indian Orchard Pump Station, whose operational costs are cited as being included in the Wastewater Collection revenue line in Table 10.7) from $6.976M to $27.258M, an almost 4-fold increase in costs.
CRWC does not have the ability to conduct detailed economic analysis that would add to the thorough analysis provided for Springfield, but a cursory review of how costs and revenues are presented indicates that further analysis is warranted to determine how the Commission’s Non-rate Revenue could contribute more to the revenue requirements of the proposed LTCP and IWP.
4. According to Tighe & Bond’s 2012 Massachusetts Water Rates Survey (online at http://rates.tighebond.com/%28S%28tuhhsnmpi0iiob45jsykptih%29%29/Downloads/2012MAWATERFINAL.pdf ), Springfield does not use an ascending water rate unlike 65% of the municipalities in the state. Some of the SWSC member towns have ascending rate structures, and others do not. The MWRA, by comparison, requires member towns to have an ascending rate structure. Ascending water rates encourage water efficiency, which is why they are recommended by MassDEP, and they could help reduce flows into the combined wastewater treatment system. Ascending rate could help re-distribute costs to high water using residents who may be able to afford it. Looking through the water rates survey and wastewater rate survey, it appears that Springfield somehow has a higher rate than its member towns.
5. The implementation schedule for this limited control and minimal cost of 20 years is extremely long, especially when you consider that it took 14 years to get from the draft LTCP to the final. By comparison, Hartford is require by CT DEEP to spend about $100 million per year over its 15 year control plan)
6. Section 3.3.1 explains the service area and tributary flows from eight municipalities, describing a system that is combined in some areas and a separated sanitary system in other areas. It is not clear in the report the role the seven other communities play in the impact on the CSO controls or their contribution to the cost of the solution. Do the peak flows from the other towns contribute to the overflows, the peak flows ant the treatment facility, the need for storage? Has the Inflow and Infiltration of these communities been controlled? After all, Table 5-19 indicates that the modeled bacteria counts coming from bypass 042 (the WWTP overflow) is quite high – on the same order as bacteria counts in the Mill River.
7. Page 5-59 in the LTCP explains that Connecticut River levels for 1976 were unavailable and a calibration with backwater data was not completed and river levels were not simulated during the assessment of the typical year under baseline conditions. Again, we question 1976 being used as an average year for river flow. Even so, it is unclear why the USGS data for the gage at Thompsonville, CT (which has 85 years of data) could not be used as a surrogate, with an estimated correction factor for Springfield’s location.
8. The various alternatives appear to be analyzed independent of the peak flows directed to the treatment facility and the treatment facility evaluates several peak flow scenarios which are not explained relative to the CSO control strategy. The Appendix D does show various peak flow volumes and storage cost requirements for the treatment facility but it is not clear how the flow and costs are generated.
9. The Evaluation Criteria used in Chapter 6 (Table 6.7-1) gives less than a ten percent impact to regulatory considerations and bacteria reduction that are the primary reasons for control. The report concludes that the water quality impacts are the same based on the overflow events, but the volume of the overflow may be entirely different for each control strategy despite having the same frequency of overflows. The criteria give the lowest ranking to benefits to recreation, boating, development and river and riverbank uses. This seems to discount the potential benefits the City of Springfield can gain over the next forty years from increasing access to the river and creating new recreational opportunities. One recent example is the $1.3M grant the City received in May 2014 to continue restoring North Riverfront Park and the facilities at the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, a burgeoning community rowing and boating facility (the City matched this amount with $300,000 of its own money).
10. Table 6.6-5 shows that the cost effectiveness (cost per million gallons of CSO removed) of the separation alternative and the storage alternative getting to zero overflows per year is right around the same cost effectiveness as the hybrid approach getting to eight overflows per year. These alternatives should be considered for achieving zero overflows into the future.
11. Once again, none of Connecticut DEP’s comments (4-1 through 4-19) have not been addressed in any response to comment document, even though it was required by the Secretary’s Certificate to the draft LTCP back in 2000.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Springfield LTCP.
Andrea F. Donlon
cc: Kurt Boisjolie, MassDEP
Chris Duerring, MassDEP
Christopher Curtis, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
Betsey Wingfield, CTDEEP
Doug Koopman, USEPA
Michael Wagner, USEPA
Josh Schimmel, SWSC