This blog is written by Elena Cohen, who’s the District Director on our state Senate team and a Northampton native. This is an excerpt from the Water and Sewer Forum Report Elena wrote after the November 1, 2019 forum organized by Senator Jo Comerford, Representative Natalie Blais, and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.
Over the course of the first eight months that Senator Jo Comerford and Representative Natalie Blais have been in office, our offices have been contacted by an alarming number of towns in our districts about the serious, intractable issues they have providing water or sewer services to their residents. Many of these are rural towns with small tax bases, crumbling infrastructure, and large geographical area. Their waste treatment plants or water companies operate at a deficit, often with infrastructure designed to serve an industry that does not currently exist in the town, and the towns have no funds for badly needed repairs or overhauls.
These are some of the reasons that the Rural Policy Advisory Commission identified water and sewer issues as priority topics for this legislative session.
Our offices have begun to work with each town on their unique issue, but it became clear that we must identify possible longer-term solutions. To that end, our offices worked with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments to bring together local, state, and federal officials to identify resources that can assist towns struggling with water and sewer issues, as well as to explore the possibility of regional collaboration on these issues going forward.
On Friday, November 1, over 90 people gathered at the Whately Town Hall. These included municipal officials and administrators from 25 towns, staff from state and federal agencies, staff from the federal legislative delegation, our state legislative colleagues, representatives from organizations that support municipalities with water and wastewater issues, state and local community development and planning organizations, and researchers.
In the morning, the following towns and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments presented on an issue that affects their town, or in the case of Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the entirety of Franklin County:
- Greenfield: The challenges associated with wastewater sludge disposal/ the need for a regional anaerobic digester in Franklin County
- Erving: Lack of infrastructure
- Franklin Regional Council of Governments: Aging infrastructure issues
- Deerfield: Climate change impacts causing system problems
- Ashfield: Lack of certified operators for rural systems
- Montague: The challenges of towns saddled with large-scale systems that are no longer completely necessary but must be maintained
Over lunch, participants broke into small group discussion on each of these topics, and then everyone gathered at the end of the day for a brief closing.