Chicopee official explains increase in sewage overflow warnings

Residents in more communities are being warned to stay out of local rivers due to sewage overflows.
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 10:09 PM EDT
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CHICOPEE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Residents in more communities are being warned to stay out of local rivers due to sewage overflows.

The latest overflow was discovered in the Chicopee River and it comes after residents in several Springfield communities were asked to avoid both the Connecticut River and Worcester County residents were asked to avoid the Blackstone River all for that same reason. It seemed to us like these occurrences were happening more frequently, especially in the last week, so we headed straight to officials to find out why.

Chicopee officials informed residents Thursday of sewage discharges found in the Chicopee and Connecticut Rivers on July 13 and 14 following this week’s rain.

“We have what’s called a combined sewer system, where stormwater and sanitary sewage are conveyed by the same pipe,” said Chicopee Water Pollution Control Project Supervisor Quinn Lonczak.

The alert comes after Springfield officials asked residents to avoid the Connecticut River in several communities and residents in Worcester County were asked to avoid the Blackstone River due to discharged sewage.

We wanted to know why it seemed these discharges were happening more often. Lonczak told Western Mass News that this is actually very common, but cities are now required to report it to residents because of a new state law put into effect on July 6.

“The system was built many years ago and its actually designed to overflow at certain areas along the Chicopee and Connecticut Rivers in order to protect the system from backing up into peoples’ homes or damaging the wastewater treatment plan itself…As these have been happening over many years, they’re just a little more in the spotlight now because we are notifying the public within a certain number of hours after they’ve occurred,” Lonczak explained.

We checked in with the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring rivers and streams in the Bay State. The group advocated for many years for this law to be passed and policy supervisor Katharine Lange told us that’s because they felt it was important to make sure the public to knew this was happening.

“Even though this happens almost every time it rains, most people don’t see it, don’t interact with it, and are unaware that it’s happening. Having sometimes untreated wastewater in our rivers, our bays, our ponds, is a really big deal. First of all, its gross…but also, it’s got impacts to water quality for aquatic wildlife and, of course, the public health risks that come with that,” Lange noted.

Since the state’s database was launched at the beginning of this month, Lange said there have already been 42 reports of untreated combined sewer overflow discharges.

“Every year, there’s billions of gallons of sewage statewide in our rivers,” Lange added.

Lonczak said the city is working to upgrade its infrastructure, but they still have a lot of construction ahead of them and it will be expensive.

“We’ve done a lot of sewer separation in Chicopee, over $200 million in work. We’re beginning another project in the Fairview neighborhood next spring and summer,” Lonczak noted.

Lonczak said any time there’s a notification to avoid contact of any kind with the water for 48 hours after it was sent, per state public health officials.