LOWELL — U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan visited the Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility on Monday to discuss how funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in December will help the city improve its wastewater infrastructure.
Trahan visited the facility with David Cash, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s newly appointed regional administrator for New England, to discuss how the federal funding will be used to upgrade sewage systems along the Merrimack River.
“For decades, federal divestment from critical wastewater infrastructure upgrades has forced communities like Lowell and so many others along the Merrimack River to foot the bill. That neglect finally ended when we passed and the president signed into law the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Trahan said. “This package is delivering unprecedented federal investments to upgrade our sewage systems and clean up our drinking water.”
The infrastructure spending package allocates $55 billion for upgrading community water systems and replacing lead service lines across the United States, $1.1 billion of which will be spent in Massachusetts over the next five years.
The EPA announced in December the first $188 million was being sent to Massachusetts through the State Revolving Fund.
“Modernizing water and sewer infrastructure is imperative to keeping waterways like the Merrimack River clean and healthy,” said City Manager Eileen Donoghue. “The high costs associated with these critical infrastructure projects can be prohibitive to municipalities that would otherwise be willing to take them on. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will go a long way towards helping communities make necessary upgrades to wastewater infrastructure.”
Lowell, like other communities along the Merrimack River, has experienced extensive combined sewer overflows in the past, discharging contaminated water into the river. In the past 15 years, the city has invested more than $150 million in CSO control projects and reduced the annual discharge volume by 60%, but the sewage system has still been forced to discharge an average of 300 to 450 million gallons of sewage-contaminated overflow in recent years.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law contains $1.4 billion to specifically target CSOs such as these. The state is also making other investments in related infrastructure upgrades, including disbursement of American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“This investment in upgrading our sewer system is about more than clean drinking water, it is an investment in a cleaner environment, and brighter future for Merrimack River adjacent communities,” said state Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Lowell. “The Merrimack River is an important source for recreation such as boating and swimming and wildlife such as bald eagles and fish.”
Local officials, including state Reps. Vanna Howard, D-Lowell, Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, and Rady Mom, D-Lowell, praised the work Trahan has done to provide funding in the area. Garry noted the infrastructure projects will bring new jobs, while Howard said the investments will improve health and quality of life for residents.
“These are the kinds of investments in our critical infrastructures that we need more of, and the resources expended here will pay dividends for decades for us, in all of our communities,” Howard said.
Mom said the efforts will “provide clean and safe drinking water for today and future generations to come.”
Merrimack River Watershed Council Executive Director Matthew Thorne said the funding would help restore trust among residents who look at the river as a source of pollution and purchase bottled water instead of risking the negative effects of that pollution.
“We know that once we began to tolerate a baseline level of pollution in our drinking and recreational waters, it is very hard to get people to once again trust the water source or trust the government institutions charged with safeguarding them,” Thorne said. “This infrastructure funding gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rewrite that narrative.”