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Clean water restored to parts of Durham for the first time in 18 years

Kay Perkins
Connecticut Public
Drinking from color-changing cups, officials toast with local tap water the completion of a nearly 6-mile pipeline connecting parts of Durham to Middletown’s waterline, providing clean water to about 120 homes and businesses. From left: David Cash, EPA New England regional administrator; Col. John A. Atilano II, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New England commander; Manisha Juthani, state Department of Public Health commissioner; Graham Stevens, DEEP Bureau of Water Protection chief; Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim; and Laura Francis, former Durham first selectwoman.

Some homes and businesses in Durham now have reliable access to clean water for the first time in over 18 years.

Decades of industrial waste from two local factories contaminated local wells, which was first detected in 1970. Nearly 20 years later, the Environmental Protection Agency added Durham Meadows to its priority list of Superfund sites, which include “some of the nation’s most contaminated land.” Formal planning for a water pipeline began in 2005 and the project was completed in July, though some groundwater and soil cleanup continues.

The new pipeline is nearly 6 miles long and connects parts of Durham to Middletown’s waterline, providing clean water to about 120 homes and businesses.

Federal, state and local officials gathered for a Wednesday news conference outside of Frank Ward Strong Middle School to celebrate the completion of the joint project.

“Parents no longer have to be afraid to send their students through these doors,” said Laura Francis, who was Durham’s first selectwoman when construction on the pipeline began in 2019. “Our residents will no longer have to fear that the interim measures they’ve had to put in place could fail at any time and impact their health.”

Francis said she had heard from Durham residents who had struggled to sell their homes because of buyers’ concerns about water pollution.

“What's beautiful about this is that it supports the expansion of drinking water hookups and fire safety hookups throughout Durham in a way that will spur economic development,” said David Cash, EPA New England regional administrator. “And we also know that this has a huge public safety impact, with all of the fire hydrants that you can see going up and down main street.”

“[This partnership] is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim. “That’s adults working together, and that’s government working as it is supposed to be working. And so, let us now try to continue working as we’re supposed to be working.”

U.S. Congresswoman DeLauro said funding will be available starting in October to expand the waterline to 73 more Durham homes and businesses.

At the end of the news conference, officials toasted the new pipeline with local tap water.