Air Guard seeks water system pact

WESTFIELD – The Water Commission has agreed to investigate the privatization of the water distribution system at the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts National Air Guard base located at the northwest area of Barnes Regional Airport.
The board agreed to allow Water Resource Department officials to investigate assuming responsibility for the base water system following a presentation by LTC Denise Boyer, the base engineer, Monday night, who said that the on-going expansion of facilities is taxing the ability to adequately distribute water throughout the base.
Boyer said there is a facilities project now underway and another in the planning stages, both of which will increase the demand for water on the base.
“Utilities are not a primary core duty of the DOD (Department of Defense),” Boyer said. “We don’t do it as well as utility companies.”
Boyer said a change in federal law and Department of Defense policy now allow military installations to seek private contractors for utility maintenance. The city’s Water Resource Department would be contracted, as a private utility, by the DOD to maintain and upgrade the base’s water system.
“The DOD realized that facilities are not being maintained at the level needed and that utility companies do a much better job of that, that’s why they passed this legislation,” Boyer said. “This is very preliminary, but I’m asking you to begin the investigation.”
That investigation, to be done in cooperation between the city and the Air Guard, will include an examination of the current water distribution system, which is the second largest water consumer in the city, and expansion of that system to meet the anticipated future water requirements.
Boyer said that regulations pertaining to fire suppression systems are now required in most new construction projects and that the present dead-end distribution system causes a significant pressure drop at the end of the water main.
Boyer said that utility maintenance and expansion are not a DOD funding priority when compared to mission essential projects, but that some level of federal funding is available for both.
Boyer said that the present system needs a second source, installation of a new main, most likely through the Massachusetts Army National Guard medical helicopter base, to create a loop to equalize pressure throughout the distribution system.
“I need two sources of water for force protection,” Boyer said.
Water Resource Superintendent Dave Billips said the current proposal to assume responsibility for the Air Guard’s water infrastructure is different that past proposals when the guard wanted to establish its own water district within the city.
“This is different, in the past they talked about a consecutive (water) system status.” Billips said. “What they’re asking for now is that we’d be wholly responsible for the system inside the base.”
Billips said that the city has major distribution lines on both sides of the airport and that extending service to the southern area of the base to eliminate the low pressure problem by creating a loop is feasible.
Commission Chairman Ron Cole said the board’s concern is with the liability to city ratepayers.
“Our concern is assessing our exposure for infrastructure upgrades and maintenance and how we would fund that,” Cole said.
“I would pay that,” Boyer said, adding the DOD would sign contracts with the department for capital projects, expansion of water distribution services and a separate contract to maintain the system.
“This is a breath of fresh air to us,” Cole said. “The board would welcome an open dialogue.”

To Top