Holyoke Water Works seeks $6.5M for replacing additional mains

  • A fire destroyed a house at 68 Fairfield Ave. in Holyoke on Saturday, Sept. 28. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/9/2019 11:40:00 PM

HOLYOKE — In the wake of a fire on Fairfield Avenue that destroyed a historic home and raised questions around inadequate hydrant water pressure, the general manager of Holyoke Water Works is asking the city to consider an additional $6.5 million bond for further water main replacement projects.

At a Public Safety Committee meeting of the City Council on Wednesday night, Water Works General Manager David Conti and the Board of Water Commissioners presented a plan for approximately $6.535 million in 10 additional high-priority water main projects. The city in 2018 approved a $13.39 million bond for water works capital projects, including $5.96 million for high-priority water main replacement.

“The $13.39 million does just, more or less, satisfy the worst of the worst,” Conti said to the committee. “But there are still going to be areas going forward that need attention.”

Conti said he had spoken with Mayor Alex Morse, who reportedly supported bringing a bond authorization for the additional work to the City Council. The water works department expects work to last until 2024 or 2025, and Conti said it will most likely have to increase water rates in the city by 25 percent over the course of the construction.

During the recent late September blaze, which left six displaced, firefighters had to draw water from hydrants on Nonotuck and Northampton streets after hydrants closer to the fire proved insufficient. At Wednesday’s meeting, Conti explained that first responders opened one hydrant near the fire, then another, which cut the capacity between the two in half — prompting them to seek relief from a hydrant farther away.

Conti said the Board of Water Commissioners had been aware of low-capacity water mains in the city, including the main on Fairfield Avenue, since the 1990s. At the time, the board decided to defer those projects since the city bonded for federally mandated water filtration upgrades.

A low-capacity water main can result in limited available flow through the fire hydrant as a result of the diameter of the pipe itself, Conti said. And since many of the pipes were installed in the late 1800s, a majority of them are smaller than modern pipes.

In 2017, when the bonds for the water filtration work matured, Conti said he started to explore the deferred upgrades to the water system — eventually leading to the designation of high-priority areas.

After the meeting, Conti explained that upgrading the water mains to more modern pipes would result in greater fire protection for areas as it would increase the number of high-capacity fire hydrants. There are other projects identified, he said, but those are designated as “medium” and “low” priority levels as they are near mains and hydrants that are high-capacity.

The additional money would go to supporting “key areas” in the city that have low capacity, he said, helping with fire protection so first responders don’t have to spend valuable time searching out high-capacity mains on distant streets.

“If you have a street that is limited capacity, but you have an adjoining street that has the capacity, it gives the fire department the ability to go to those particular areas,” he said. “Not only does it address the deficiency on that street, but it supports adjoining streets.”

The currently authorized water main projects have been divided into three phases, the first of which is in the planning stages and is expected to begin in the spring of 2020. In the meantime, Conti told the committee that the Board of Water Commissioners on Tuesday approved placing two hydrants where Northampton Street meets Fairfield Avenue and Morgan Street, which he said temporarily mitigates the problem. This is slated to be done within the next 30 days at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 each.

“This is not going to give you a perfect system,” Conti said. “But it addresses high-priority projects and it provides the redundancy we need for the fire department so that these other areas that will need attention in the future, they have support in fire protection.”

Earlier in the meeting, Conti briefed the committee on complaints surrounding discolored drinking water around Homestead Avenue and Westfield Road. Water system upgrades around the new Amazon distribution center are causing disruption, because the center is connected to the residential water system, though Conti said the city was looking at ways to get the Amazon center on the commercial system.

Conti also said he put in a request to flush the water system in the city, since that has not been done since 2017, despite state law mandating municipal systems to be flushed annually. He said the water system is to be flushed this year.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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