HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – A consent decree with federal and state environmental enforcement agencies has been proposed by Holyoke for reducing future sewage discharges into the Connecticut River from the city’s stormwater and sewer collection systems. The decree resolves violations of the Clean Water Act and Massachusetts state law.

This consent decree was filed in federal court Wednesday as a result of an enforcement action brought by the Department of Justice on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office on behalf of MassDEP.

A settlement document states that Holyoke violates its state and federal wastewater discharge permits by discharging pollutants from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into the Connecticut River. As part of a long-term control plan for CSOs and to eliminate the Jackson Street CSO, the City has worked closely with federal and state environmental agencies in recent years to address these discharges.  Further sewer separation work will be required to eliminate or reduce additional CSO discharges under the consent decree.

In addition, the City will sample storm sewer discharges, remove illicit connections, and take other steps to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff. Additionally, the consent decree includes a $50,000 penalty for past permit violations related to CSO discharges.

At the request of the Massachusetts Attorney General and the Department of Justice, the court entered a partial consent decree in 2019 requiring Holyoke to develop a long-term plan to reduce sewer discharges. As part of the consent decree filed Wednesday, the parties propose a final agreement to reduce sewer discharges, which would replace the prior agreement.

Around 70% of Holyoke’s population is served by Holyoke’s sewer collection system, of which two-thirds carry both sewage and stormwater. The combined system transports all wastewater to the treatment facility most of the time. When heavy rain occurs, the wastewater volume can exceed the capacity of the sewer system or the treatment facility, and the excess wastewater is discharged into the Connecticut River without treatment. CSO discharges contain raw sewage and are a major source of water pollution.    

There is a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court for the proposed consent decree.

According to a news release from the City of Holyoke Mayor’s Office, Holyoke also has begun the process of compliance under the new federal MS-4 municipal requirements. These rules are to prevent untreated stormwater waste from going in the river.

“This is not a new problem,” Mayor Garcia said. “This is what the state of Massachusetts calls a ‘legacy problem of early infrastructure.’ Many communities are dealing with the same issue and it’s always expensive because it requires redesign and upgrade.

“The problem isn’t new but what is new is the willingness of the federal and state governments to provide Holyoke with breathing room so that we can come up with a permanent fix to this decades’ old problem. With an eye on the costs to our local ratepayers — and looking to seize any and all funding opportunities to reduce that local burden — this consent decree gives Holyoke both the time and operational flexibility to plan its way forward to cleaner streets, a cleaner city and a cleaner Connecticut River.”