HAVERHILL — City Council is expected to approve borrowing nearly $7 million tonight to make federally-mandated improvements to old storm-water and sewer pipes polluting the Merrimack River.
Last month, city officials told the council that environmental regulators were ready to crack down on the city for its slow progress in making improvements to the so-called combined sewer overflow system.
The network of underground pipes, which serves about one third of the city including the downtown, collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater.
Most of the time, the pipes carry the mixture to the city’s sewage treatment plant, where it is cleaned before being discharged into the river and other waterways. But during heavy rainfall or the melting of snow, the pipes are allowed to discharge some of the mixture — about 30 million gallons annually — directly into the river.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has been after Haverhill, as well as other old mill cities across the country such as Lowell and Manchester, N.H., to get rid of combined sewer overflow systems — called CSOs — or make expensive improvements to them.
Robert Ward, the city’s deputy public works director, recently told councilors the city must spend almost $9 million to upgrade the system this year, and possibly $30 million or more in the future to appease regulators. Ward said the city will likely have to increase the cost of city sewer service in a few years to cover the cost of improving the system. He also has floated the idea of creating a new storm water fee to help pay for the work.
Ward said the city expects to spend $8.8 million this year to make further improvements to the sewer/drainage system.
Mayor James Fiorentini is asking councilors to approve a loan for most of that amount tonight — $6.9 million. Ward said he will seek the balance this summer.