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Press Release

United States and Commonwealth of Massachusetts Announce Settlement with City of Holyoke to Reduce Sewage in Connecticut River

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have entered into a consent decree with the City of Holyoke, Massachusetts, to resolve the Clean Water Act and Massachusetts state law. The proposed consent decree calls for Holyoke to take further remedial action to reduce ongoing sewage discharges into the Connecticut River from the city’s sewer collection and stormwater systems.

As detailed in the consent decree, Holyoke discharges pollutants from combined sewer overflow (CSO) into the Connecticut River in violation of its federal and state wastewater discharge permits. A combined sewer system collects rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater into one pipe. Under normal conditions, it transports all of the wastewater to a sewage treatment plant for treatment before discharging to a waterbody. However, during periods of heavy rain, the wastewater volume can exceed the carrying capacity of the sewer system or the treatment facility, resulting in the discharge of untreated wastewater to the Connecticut River. CSO discharges contain raw sewage and are a major water pollution concern.

In full cooperation with federal and state environmental agencies, the city has taken steps in recent years to address these unlawful discharges, including finalizing a long-term overflow control plan, separating sewers and eliminating overflows in the Jackson Street area. The consent decree will require the city to undertake further sewer separation work that will eliminate or reduce additional CSO discharges, as well as requiring a $50,000 penalty for past permit violations resulting in illegal discharges to the Connecticut River.

The city will also conduct sampling of its storm sewer discharges, work to remove illicit connections and take other actions to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff. The total cost to comply with the proposed consent decree is estimated at approximately $27 million.

“Today’s settlement will significantly reduce pollution in the Connecticut River and improve water quality for the Holyoke community,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department will continue pursuing environmental justice in communities burdened by pollution in rivers and streams to support the health and safety of all communities.”

“Fiercely protecting our environment is a civil and human rights issue and ensuring that every community has clean water is a vital part of that work. This consent decree better protects the residents of Holyoke and every single community that lives along and enjoys the Connecticut River,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins for the District of Massachusetts. “We will continue to require with the full force of the federal government that every community is healthy and safe.”

“Under the terms of today’s settlement, the City of Holyoke will take additional steps to reduce the amount of untreated sewage discharged during heavy rain events,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The result of this work will be cleaner, safer water for communities that make use of the Connecticut River.”

Holyoke owns and operates a sewer collection system that services approximately 70% of the city, two-thirds of which carries both sewage and stormwater.

This settlement is part of EPA’s continuing efforts to keep raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of our nation’s waters. Raw sewage overflows and inadequately controlled stormwater discharges from municipal sewer systems introduce a variety of harmful pollutants, including disease causing organisms, metals and nutrients that threaten our communities’ water quality and can contribute to disease outbreaks, beach and shellfish bed closings, flooding, stream scouring, fishing advisories and basement backups of sewage.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. Once it is published in the Federal Register, a copy of the consent decree will be available on the Justice Department website at

Updated April 5, 2024

Environmental Justice
Press Release Number: 23-321