March 2, 2012

George Hicks
Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse
Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection
79 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-5127

Re: CRWC Comments on the Clean Water Fund Draft Priority List

Dear Mr. Hicks,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony. On behalf of the Connecticut River Watershed Council I am here today to express support for full funding of the Clean Water Fund and full distribution of currently unallocated funds so that Connecticut municipalities can be supported to protect water quality for their residents through needed, but expensive infrastructure improvements. Infrastructure funding for clean water is one of the top priorities for us, and we appreciate that Governor Malloy and legislators understand the importance of infrastructure in protecting the state’s natural resources and creating and sustaining jobs, in turn improving the quality of life of CT residents. By maintaining a progressive CWF program, CT stands out as one of the leaders in the nation in sending the message that robust communities thrive on clean, abundant water that people, wildlife and businesses alike can enjoy.

The Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) is a nonprofit organization established in 1952 to advocate for the sustainable use of the Connecticut River throughout the entire four-state watershed that is home to more than 2.5 million people. We work to conserve, protect and restore water quality and quantity, habitat and recreational access within the Connecticut River watershed.

As the Lower River Steward, I work on issues concerning the stretch of river from the MA border to the River’s mouth, where it provides 70% of all the freshwater entering Long Island Sound. I serve on the Metropolitan District Commission’s Citizens Advisory Committee for their Clean Water Project and their Green Infrastructure Subcommittee.

The MDC has been a leader in infrastructure maintenance and works hard to stretch money received in the form of grants and loans. During Phase I of the Clean Water Project the MDC benefited tremendously from CWF support. Twenty-three percent of project costs were covered by grants, and that is money ratepayers do not need to help recover. The Council is supportive of how MDC is thoughtfully evaluating the potential of green infrastructure solutions for CSO correction. MDC has worked with the Green Infrastructure subcommittee to outline proposed demonstration projects in the city of Hartford which will help remove stormwater from the system and serve as an educational opportunity for communities. We understand municipality concerns on costs and maintenance related to green infrastructure and are looking to examples of projects done well and not so well to understand what green infrastructure can potentially accomplish in regards to stormwater filtration and removal, augmenting gray infrastructure costs and making communities more livable through traffic calming, stewardship education and greener spaces when properly planned, designed and vetted with communities and public works.

River Stewards regularly comment on permits for facilities discharging into the Connecticut River mainstem and its tributaries. We comment on the permits’ usefulness in protecting water quality standards and designated uses. Nutrient loading of nitrogen and phosphorus should not impair designated uses. The costly impact of excessive nutrient loading into Long Island in the forms of fish kills, impaired water and damage to tourism is well known. Long Island Sound contributes $9.5 billion each year to our region’s economy, and its tributaries attract people and money to the state —better water quality will bolster commercial and recreational boating, fishing and tourism and will improve the ecological and recreational value of our state waters.

I have been fortunate to visit publicly owned sewage treatment plants and speak with operators to understand how much CWF matters to their ability to do their jobs. Infrastructure upgrades are costly but absolutely necessary and the CWF helps them meet and sometimes exceed state requirements. We think DEEP is doing the right thing in providing funding for phosphorus control.

The Council is very supportive of the tremendous amount of resources that has been put toward control of nutrients in order to both restore Long Island Sound as well as improve all of Connecticut’s impaired waters. An important part of this work is the continuing work by the CT DEEP to create biological criteria as well as nutrient thresholds for our waters. This important work must continue to be a priority for the CT DEEP in order that we have scientifically robust water quality criteria that ensure that the many millions of dollars we are investing are targeted precisely and money is allocated as efficiently as possible.

The Connecticut River is a Class B water meant to be fishable and swimmable. It is not fishable and swimmable at all times or in all areas. Almost all of the Connecticut River in the state is impaired for bacteria. More than 45.75 miles are impaired for enterococcus and e. coli, as a result of combined sewer overflows and nonpoint source pollution. The MDC Clean Water project seeks to address the fact that over one billion gallons of sewage are annually dumped into area waterways. While this particular project is a priority of mine due to its effect on the watershed, CSO problems anywhere threaten communities and should be made priorities. One of the most common questions I field is, “is the river safe to swim in?” We want people to use all the rivers in the state because when people connect with waters they are more likely to want to protect them. The answer I give is “yes, but”…I look forward to answering this question without the caveats.

It is worth asking why this matters to us. When I speak with students about water as a human right, I first place the issue in global context so they might imagine a life without access to clean and plentiful water. While it is easy for all of us to take water for granted when we can turn on a tap and out comes pretty good water, I remind them that where we have good quality, safe water, progressive infrastructure and creative individuals from all field committed to doing the rightthing are behind that quality. Rivers have amazing restorative powers, but with human use comes human responsibility, and we have a responsibility to investing in our waters that give us so much in return.

Thank you for your time and consideration and stewardship of our water resources.

Sincerely,

Jacqueline Talbot
Lower River Steward