Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley announced last month that she had secured $8 million of federal funding for the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District, which she represents, and that $2.5 million of that funding will be allocated for a Somerville project called the Poplar Street Pump Station. The project is slated to begin construction in fall 2022 and will provide critical stormwater management infrastructure to the city.
Somerville Ward 2 City Councilor J.T. Scott described the importance of the project.
“The Poplar Street Pump Station itself is the linchpin to a citywide set of drainage management projects that will reduce flooding and the amount of sewage routinely discharged into the Mystic River from our existing ‘Combined Sewer Overflow’ system,” Scott wrote in an email to the Daily.
In the 1980s, Massachusetts passed legislation that initiated the cleanup of the Boston Harbor, then considered the most heavily polluted waterway in the country. However, around 500 million gallons of wastewater are still deposited into the harbor via the Mystic and Charles Rivers every year, according to reporting by The Boston Globe.
Rich Raiche, project executive and director of infrastructure and asset management for the City of Somerville, said the project is an extremely large undertaking but will provide significant benefits to Somerville residents, such as providing necessary flood relief and enhancing climate resilience.
“The area has been prone to flooding for the past 100 or so years, and that flooding is getting worse and is projected to get worse,” Raiche said. “And so the pump station is being designed and the storage facility and the connection are being designed to be climate resilient against the changing climate.”
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley discussed the potential impact of funding the pump station.
“This critical funding will help the Somerville community address systemic inequities in its water infrastructure, prepare for the impacts of climate change, and create space for joy and creativity,” Pressley said in a press release on July 29, 2021.
Congresswoman Pressley’s office and the City of Somerville worked closely to determine how to best use the federal funds, and this project stood out.
“It’s a very expensive project, but … everyone agreed it had a lot of benefits,” Raiche said. “We worked with Ayanna Pressley’s office … writing up the benefit statement, and all the things that they needed to put it into the budget.”
Scott explained the project’s potential benefits.
“This facility’s environmental benefits in reducing sewage and pollution dumped into the Mystic River is an absolutely necessary benefit, and it will also provide much needed capacity during storms to prevent our streets, sidewalks, and basements from filling with sewage — an unfortunately common occurrence in many parts of Ward 2 presently,” he wrote.
The project has not been without its challenges, most notably because of its significant size and expense.
“It is a significant civil engineering [project], and it has a lot of technical challenges that the team has designed their way out of on a weekly or daily basis,” Raiche said. “The size of the tank and the size of the pumps are substantial, so it’s going to be a very major project.”
Raiche explained how the pump will operate and fit into the current sewage system.
“All the stormwater from the greater Union Square area flows down via pipes,” he said. “There’s a large interceptor sewer … that then connects into other portions of their system and makes its way out to Deer Island.”
Raiche explained that flooding is caused by the fact that the system is undersized. The new pump system will redirect stormwater away from the Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, drastically reducing the volume that plant will need to process.
“So, we’re redirecting stormwater flow from … Deer Island to this pump station, and the pump station will have a large tank so that as the big storms come through, we’re storing that stormwater in a tank and then the pump pumps that water out at a controlled rate into the MBTA system,” he said. “That will then make its way to the Charles River.”
Though Somerville residents will not be able to actually see the pump station, they will be able to enjoy the open space and artistic environment. The pump will be in an underground tank beneath a new park called ArtFarm, a public space for art performances and urban agriculture.
“There’s a number of studios and artists’ lofts down in that neighborhood,” Raiche said. “In terms of that open space, it was always envisioned to have an art component to it but also be a place where live performances can happen.”
The project’s timeline is still somewhat uncertain. Though construction is slated to begin in fall of 2022, it will be a multiyear project.
The Poplar Street Pump Station is a project that will not only improve climate resiliency and make tangible improvements to the current flood rates, but will also serve to enhance the Somerville community via the ArtFarm corollary project.
Scott hopes the impact of this project will be lasting for generations of Somerville residents to come.
“I’ve long been an advocate for the massive projects needed to address the problems inherent in our century-plus-old storm and sewer system, and this grant is an important step in moving us forward to solving the environmental and public health impacts of flooding throughout Ward 2 and the city as a whole,” Scott wrote.