MIDDLETOWN — Clean drinking water, the absence of which has plagued more than four dozen households and firms along a section of Main Street for 30 years, will become a reality in two years, thanks to the cooperation of countless agencies and individuals.

In all, 50 private wells serving 54 locations are contaminated, requiring the distribution of bottled water and the installation of carbon treatment systems as a temporary solution, according to Environmental Protection Agency officials, who celebrated the momentous occasion Tuesday at the Durham Meadows Superfund Site.

Federal, state and local officials converged on 281 Main St. to herald the start of a $24.4 million construction project for a water line from Middletown to the town center, work expected to be complete in 2020.

Superfund areas are thousands of contaminated sites across the nation that exist due to dumping of hazardous waste, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed. These sites include manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills and mining sites, according to the EPA.

First Selectwoman Laura Francis summed up the feelings of frustration that have permeated discussions for years.

“Today is the day that the emotions of the town of Durham residents, which have been concern, fear and anger, change to comfort, relief and gratitude,” she said.

Francis recalled inheriting the project 12 years ago, when she was first elected.

“Leadership matters, expect results” was the campaign slogan that carried her to political victory, Francis said. Since that time, the first selectwoman has discovered the true meaning of such a promise, she told the nearly three dozen people gathered on the sunny morning.

“Leadership means that, without a title, without authority over the final decision, without any personal reward, you work to do the right thing. You do the thing that is just for the people,” she said.

Nearly six miles of water line — about 30,000 feet — will be installed to allow connection to Middletown’s water system of 120 homes and industrial firms, including Coginchaug High School, Strong Middle School and the Durham Fairgrounds, officials said.

EPA Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel was joined by Col. William Conde of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes, and Middletown Mayor Dan Drew to celebrate the groundbreaking.

It will connect residents whose wells are impacted by the site to a public water supply. For more than a decade, residents have been using potable water for drinking.

The site includes land owned by the Durham Manufacturing Co. and the former Merriam Manufacturing Co. Both firms used various chlorinated solvents, including trichloroethene, which has been detected in groundwater in concentrations as high as 1,400 parts per billion (280 times the safe level), according to the EPA.

A large area of contamination and the associated source areas were designated as the Durham Meadows Superfund Site in 1989, the EPA said.

“The solution to this problem was far from elegant. It didn’t fit in a box with a big bow on top of it. It was messy, and, at time, elusive,” Francis said.

The work necessitated the forming of strategic partnerships, she added. “It’s a model for other communities to emulate.”

The project will encompass the building of an 800,000-gallon water storage tank at the top of the Talcott Ridge in Middletown, which also will provide fire protection, according to AECOM Project Manager Richard M. Berlandy.

EPA Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel said restoring clean drinking water and returning land to protected use is his agency’s top priority. “We’ve made substantial progress,” he said.

DEEP is paying for 10 percent of construction costs. Ninety percent of the funding comes from federal partners, Dykes said.

“We know it’s been a long road to get here. There were a lot of solutions to consider, a lot of different alternatives, but this type of collaboration — [municipalities] coming together — to provide the most critical assurance around clean drinking water for the community of Durham is absolutely essential,” she added.

Francis summed up the import of Tuesday’s announcement.

“Having this project complete will be the most transformational thing that has happened to Durham since, possibly, the [discovery of] the contamination, which will “revitalize” Main Street, as well as provide much-needed fire protection, she added.

“Like the colonel said, ‘Let’s move some dirt!’”