Deal reached on water regulations
Published 1:25 pm, Thursday, October 27, 2011
By Vinti Singh
We may be taking too much water from our state’s rivers and streams and endangering fish populations, Connecticut environmentalists have been warning for years. The solution, they say, is to regulate how much water can be used. But industry experts said if the rules are too strict, they would be bad for business and for public health.
After intense negotiations, the two sides have reached a compromise and are confident state lawmakers will pass new regulations next month.
“I believe this is the most forward-looking stream-flow management proposal in New England and possibly in the nation,” Margaret Miner, executive director of Rivers Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates to protect the state’s waterways. “This is a very significant step forward in managing water both for the environment and supply.”
The proposed regulations would require water companies to collect less water in their reservoirs and release more from dams back into rivers and streams, especially in the warmer months when water levels naturally tend to dip. In exchange, the water companies would be allowed to retain more water in the late winter and early spring, when water levels tend to be at their highest.
“We’d like to see more water released (from dams) during all times of the year, but this is a major improvement over the status quo,” said David Sutherland, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.
When streams and rivers get too shallow, a number of aquatic species are threatened, Sutherland said. Also, water temperatures rise as streams get more shallow, making the water uninhabitable for some species. The amount of water the water companies are allowed to release is based on meteorological data and statistical analysis.
There will be compliance costs and potential rate increases, said Elizabeth Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Water Works Association, but they will be manageable. Earlier versions of the proposed regulations would have forced water companies to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop new sources of water by investing in new reservoirs, well fields and water treatment facilities, Gara said.
Under the compromise, water companies can release less water in times of drought. There will be costs to modify existing dams, but water companies will have 10 years to modify their infrastructure to achieve compliance and may request extensions.
Under the proposed rules, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection would have to classify all of the state’s waterways on a scale from one to four. Streams classified as a one would be given the most environmental protection, while streams classified as a four would get the least. Under the compromise, sources of water that are already developed and dammed by water companies would be guaranteed to be classified as a three or four.
DEEP will classify all the rivers and streams during the next five years and is seeking public input for the process, Betsey Wingfield, DEEP water protection and land use bureau chief, said.
“After that process is over would be the ideal time to look at crafting regulations concerning groundwater,” Wingfield said.
The Connecticut State Golf Association also reached a compromise with DEEP that it would be exempt from the planned regulations. The golf course industry already has water management guidelines that it negotiated with DEEP in its best practices manual, said Mike Dugan, a lobbyist for the association. Under the new proposal, golf courses would only have to report to DEEP the names and locations of dams they are using.
DEEP had submitted its proposal based on the compromises to the state Legislature, and withdrew the application after the Legislative Commissioners’ Office found substantive concerns and technical corrections. DEEP plans to resubmit the proposed regulations in time for the Legislative Review Committee to vote on them in November, DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said. The committee rejected the regulations without prejudice in December for the second time because of strong opposition from water companies and industries.
Both environmentalists and industry experts said they were confident the proposal would pass the third time around.
Contact Vinti Singh at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-330-6285. Follow Vinti at Twitter.com/VintiSingh.