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CRC Comments on Connecticut’s Draft State Water Plan

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CRC Comments on Connecticut’s Draft State Water Plan

December 18th, 2017|

Dear Members of the Water Planning Council,

On behalf of the Connecticut River Conservancy, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Final Draft Report of the Connecticut State Water Plan. I would also like to extend our appreciation to the Water Planning Council and to the many stakeholders who lent their time and expertise to the development of this Plan as well as to the staff of CDM Smith and Milone and MacBroom for accomplishing the monumental task of putting this plan together on such a tight schedule. It was an honor to take part in this process.

The Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), formerly the Connecticut River Watershed Council, is the principal nonprofit environmental advocate for protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River watershed.

While this plan may not be everything we had hoped and dreamed it would be, we have come a long way in the time that we had for this draft. It’s important for everyone involved in this process as well as to public to keep in mind that this plan is iterative and this is an important first step in the process. It’s not done. There is still work to do. There are very important issues that still need to be properly addressed. But we cannot continue this work  unless we move forward on  improving the draft plant to the extent possible and keep a focus on working hard in the next five years to bring the plan around to a TRUE platform for consistent, informed decision making.

A tremendous benefit of this plan is that issues in water management are more adequately identified and defined through the presentation of current data and definitions of current resource management practices. Recommendations in the plan on Water Conservation (p 5-12 thru 5-14) and the use of Class B waters for Non-Potable Uses (p 5-29 thru 5-30) are only two examples of issues on which good recommendations are put forward within the Plan. In addition, having all management information and a significant amount of water data in one place will provide citizens with a tool to be more informed about the management of their water.

The following are CRC’s specific comments on the substance of the draft Plan.

CHARACTERIZATION OF STREAMFLOW REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS

Section 5.3.2.11 Instream Flow: Ecological Flows and Stream Flow Standards and Regulations (p 5-58 thru 5-60) characterizes minimum streamflow requirements as the sole factor that would have an impact on the safe yield of public water supplies. This is not the case. Water conservation by utility customers and system efficiency are also both major factors that affect safe yield. It must be spelled out in this section that all three factors should be considered in concert. The Recommendations section for Water Conservation (p 5-12), clearly states that “Water conservation activities statewide are some of the most inexpensive implementation strategies today, and will allow water providers to be more efficient with the water resources.” Furthermore, the Executive Summary states that, “conservation initiatives discussed above, in addition to promoting the future adequacy of Class A water supply for human health, will also help ensure that more flow can remain in the streams and satisfy environmental needs.” If conservation is such an effective and efficient implementation strategy to increase safe yield and ensure that flow remains in our streams, why must our rivers and streams be put forth for sacrifice when conservation could be the answer?

RECOMMENDATION: Include the following language (underlined) to the second bullet under information needs in Section 5.3.2.11 Instream Flow: Ecological Flows and Stream Flow Standards and Regulation.

“It is recommended that the WPC assess the effects (financial and otherwise) of regulatory reservoir releases to water utilities, recreation and others in accordance with the “triple bottom line” approach described earlier alongside an assessment of water conservation activities within the system and system efficiency”.

Additionally, as David Sutherland of the Nature Conservancy repeatedly emphasized at Policy Subcommittee meetings and in written comments on previous drafts as well as on this draft, there were carefully negotiated provisions included in the Stream Flow Standards and Regulations. This is noted in Section 3.1.1.2 – “Additional exceptions apply due to drought triggers or factor of safety triggers that can help avoid impacts to safe yield of a water supply during times of hydrologic stress.”

RECOMMENDATION: The statement from Section 3.1.1.2 must be reiterated in the Acknowledgments of section 5.2.3.8 Implementation of Minimum Stream Flow Requirements as well as in Section 5.3.2.11 Instream Flow: Ecological Flows and Stream Flow Standards and Regulations.

STRONGER DIRECTION FOR A TRULY CONSISTENT DECISION MAKING PROCESS

It is still legal to dry up a stream in Connecticut . This plan does not go far enough in its recommendations and actions to fix this problem and until this is adequately addressed, we cannot have a consistent decision making process here in Connecticut. Nor can we achieve balance. Pages 5-43 thru 5-45 offer a pathway forward for registered diversions. But the Water Planning Council should be directed to address the impact that registered diversions have on our rivers and streams in a defined period of time or else it will not be addressed. CRC recommendation is by the next plan iteration.

In addition to the impact that registered diversions have had and will continue to have on our rivers and streams, they undermine the public trust doctrine for our water. The diversion permitting process allows for input from the public on a proposed diversion while there is no opportunity for public involvement in any expansion of the utilization of registered diversions. This is a crucial step in a decision making process for a resource in which we cannot live without.

RECOMMENDATION: CRC agrees with The Nature Conservancy’s recommended changes to the Summary of Action Items for the WPC in Section 5.3.2.3 Registered Water Diversions:

  • The WPC can consider SHOULD RECOMMEND the collection of additional data to support ongoing monitoring and decision making:
  • “The WPC could SHOULD request Connecticut DEEP issue the annual reporting form for registered diversions in accordance with Public Act 04-185 and CGS Section 22a-368a in order to obtain current usage data for registrations each year.
  • “The WPC can consider SHOULD COMPILE AND providEing more detailed examples or case studies of the effects of over-allocation of basins…..”
  • “The WPC can consider SHOULD COMPILE AND providEing more detailed examples or case studies of how problems concerning over-allocation of basins have been solved in the past, such as flow management plans, instream flow studies, adjusted operating rules, etc.
  • The WPC can consider SHOULD forming partnerships for further investigation of this topic:
  • “The WPC can consider discussing with registered diversion stakeholders the potential for legislative refinement regarding registration modification / registration exchange/abandonment of unused portion of registered quantities / abandonment of unused registrations / creation of an “emergency” registration category where the registration is for emergency usage only.
  • The WPC could SHOULD work with registered diverters to establish a trigger for evaluation of a mechanism to manage impairment. Diverters could monitor nearby streams, and continue use of their registered diversion until they reach the trigger level, in which they should follow their Flow Management Plan.
  • Based on facilitated discussions, the WPC can consider SHOULD developing a list of possible incentives so that individual discussions can be tailored to actual needs, such as waste load allocation adjustments, ecological needs, financial incentives, training assistance, permit schedules, regionalization incentive, etc……”
  • The WPC can consider SHOULD providEing a framework for statewide policy decisions:
  • The WPC could SHOULD determine a potential legislatively-authorized process for registration abandonment and registration modification, including all or a portion of the registered quantity, which would be effective periodically or in perpetuity. This could include an incentive-based program promulgated by Connecticut DEEP.
  • The WPC can SHOULD consider legislation as needed to provide authorities for the above.

DROUGHT MANAGEMENT

Connecticut currently does not have a comprehensive Drought Plan. Drought is handled differently at the municipal, utility, and state levels through various stages and degrees of enforceability of conservation measures. Even the terminology of drought stages are not consistent for all entities involved in water management. In the midst of crisis or potential crisis, this causes quite a bit of confusion.

RECOMMENDATION: Senators Kennedy, Gerratana and Leone proposed an amendment to SB 506 in last legislative session that gave specific direction to the Water Planning Council. Language from this amendment restated below should be considered as an addition to the Summary of Action Items for the WPC in Section 5.3.2.8 Statewide Drought Planning.

  • The Water Planning Council shall review state and local authorizations concerning drought events in this state, including, but not limited to, state and local processes and authorities for the issuance of any drought advisory, watch, warning or emergency and any attendant voluntary or mandatory water use restrictions during any such advisory, watch, warning or emergency.
  • Every three years thereafter, the Water Planning Council shall submit a report to the joint standing committees of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to the environment and public health that: (1) Synthesizes such authorities, processes and water use restrictions, (2) makes recommendations for the standardization of initiating drought advisories, watches, warnings and emergencies in this state, including, but not limited to, recommendations concerning the appropriate level of reservoir depletion and public drinking water supply depletion for triggering any such advisory, watch, warning or emergency, (3) makes recommendations for the attendant voluntary and mandatory water use restrictions for any such drought advisory, watch, warning or emergency, including, but not limited to, the implementation of mandatory water use restrictions during any drought advisory or watch, (4) prescribes an effective public notification system for any such drought advisory, watch, warning or emergency that utilizes any available Internet web sites and social media of the affected water companies and municipalities where such water companies operate and that recommends the appropriate drought level for use of emergency notification systems as part of such public notification system, (5) discusses the viability and effectiveness of enforcement mechanisms designed to assure compliance with any mandatory water use restrictions.
  • In undertaking any such review and in developing any such report pursuant to this section, the Water Planning Council may consult with the Water Planning Council Advisory Group.

Furthermore, we can sustainably utilize our abundant resource of water for economic development only if we ensure that we have the proper mechanisms in place to maintain public and environmental health during drought. This has not been addressed within the plan nor is it adequately addressed by our current regulations and policy. A prominent example of Connecticut’s regulatory shortcomings in this respect is Niagara Bottling Company in Bloomfield. Water bottling companies have a long history of continuing to draw on the water resource during drought conditions with little regard for the health and welfare of the community with which they share a drinking water supply. According to a Water Supply Fact Sheet distributed by the Metropolitan District Commission in February of 2016, the MDC would not even PLAN to cut back industrial users such as Niagara until reservoirs are 27% of full capacity. At 10% there is a cut back of designated industrial uses (for reference, residents should voluntarily restrict water use at 75%). Niagara could use up to 1.8 million gallons per day yet the possibility that a definitive request to cut back production would not be made until the reservoir is at 10% of full capacity. As long as this situation is allowable for any large volume industrial user, we are far from managing our water in a sustainable manner for future generations. We won’t have water for fish and faucet for generations to come. We will be left with water solely for profit.

BARRIER TO IMPLEMENTING PROACTIVE AND CONSISTENT CONSERVATION AND DROUGHT MEASURES

When customers conserve water either in compliance with a general conservation ethic or voluntary or mandatory conservation measures invoked due to drought, water utilities lose revenue. This leads to a lack of incentive on the part of water utilities to educate and encourage their customers to conserve or to be proactive when drought is imminent.  The Water Infrastructure and Conservation Adjustment (WICA) charge brings a steady stream of revenue for infrastructure costs to water utilities so that conservation could be made a priority without the concern over this loss of revenue. The problem is, this solution can only be applied to investor-owned utilities regulated by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. Good solutions to incentivize general conservation and timely action during drought often cannot be applied to water utilities unilaterally. Oddly enough, this is mentioned only in Section 5.3.2.2 Regionalization/Interconnections as a barrier to consensus building: “The fact that Connecticut has three (3) different administrative types of Public Water Supply systems: Private investor-owned, Regional Quasi-governmental, and Municipal. Each type has different funding mechanisms, rate structures, and expense structures that could complicate water sharing without consistent guidelines and/or facilitation from the WPC” even though this has been discussed more often as a barrier to conservation and drought response. This disparity is mentioned in neither Section 5.2.3.3 Water Conservation (which impedes the ability to implement recommendations 3, 5 and 6) nor in the pathways forward Section 5.3.2.1 Water Conservation.

RECOMMENDATION: Include an acknowledgement in Section 5.2.3.3 Water Conservation that the three different administrative types of Public Water Supply systems are a barrier to some of the Suggested Policy Recommendations in that section and include language in Section 5.3.2.1 Water Conservation (pathways forward) that directs the Water Planning Council to investigate ways in which these three types of utilities could be regulated more consistently.

WATER IN OUR RIVERS HAS ECONOMIC VALUE

We must continue to work to change the narrative that water is only of economic value when taken out of our rivers and streams. Local outfitters, outdoor guides, kayak and canoe rental establishments and the businesses that surround recreation locales know that there is monetary value in ensuring there is adequate water in our rivers and streams.  According to the 2011 Fish and Wildlife Service National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and and Wildlife Associated Recreation, there were 3,518,000 days of freshwater fishing in Connecticut (trips) and 26% of those were for trout (914,680). If an angler spends $20 on average each trip, expenditures for trout fishing in the state of Connecticut is almost $18.3 MM per year. That’s almost $20 million annually to local economies. Just for trout fishing.

RECOMMENDATION: We commend the reminder that water in our rivers and streams has value in the Economic Cost and Benefits section of the Executive Summary. “The Plan also recommends that the WPC determine if there is a consistent way to associate financial value of water for the needs represented in the Plan (including recreational and environmental) and the different types of utility ownership throughout the state.” This sentiment should be applied more consistently throughout the plan.

BALANCE

It is important that the balance of in-stream and out-of-stream needs receive due consideration and we appreciate that balance is one of the five most important messages in the plan. It should remain prominent on that priority list. But not as words on paper or as a lofty, feel-good ideal that gets tossed aside when we are facing very difficult decisions about how to manage Connecticut’s most valuable resource. Balance must be well defined. Rivers Alliance of Connecticut provides a good starting point definition for balance: “an ongoing condition of sustainability, such that preservation of waters in the public trust coexists with human health and societal wellbeing.”

In the Out of Stream needs category, you have big lobbying firms, large trade organizations, and even state-sanctioned committees with resources to ensure that legislation and regulation work in their favor. Because the critters that need water to live can’t speak for themselves, there are many organizations speaking up for the fish, the turtles, and every other creature that is essential to healthy riverine ecosystem. We work as efficiently as we can on our shoestring budgets. Some even advocating as volunteers. We work hard. But our efforts are sometimes no match for moneyed interests of for-profit entities.

The Water Planning Council has the authority to ensure that this priority is upheld.

REGULATORY DISCONNECT BETWEEN GROUND AND SURFACE WATER

Groundwater withdrawals are not addressed in streamflow regulations. While we appreciate the acknowledgements in Section 3: Preparing for Change of the importance of groundwater to adequate water quantity and better water quality, it will be necessary for the Water Planning Council to lead the way in devising a regulatory solution.

REDUCTION IN OUTDOOR WATER DEMANDS IN SUMMER MONTHS

Outdoor water demands in the summer can increase a community’s water use two-fold. This is well depicted in a 2011 OPM report to the legislature

Irrigating just ⅛ acre of lawn with the recommended 1” of water per week requires 3,400 gallons of water per week. That is more than two weeks of indoor water use for a family of four. At five gallons per minute, it would take 11 hours to water a 1/8 acre lawn, with the sprinkler being moved around for full coverage. The increasing number of automatic sprinklers in use can easily apply that much water over even larger areas, without requiring anyone’s attention.

Seasonal outdoor water demands not only increase the stress on sensitive ecosystems, as will be discussed later in this report, such demands also lead to water rates being structured in a manner that makes water companies depend on peak demands and forces water systems to be over-built to handle those demands. Even then, systems might strain to handle the demand.

Connecticut witnessed the impact that summer outdoor water demands have on our public water supply when the City of Greenwich found itself in a public water supply emergency with only 60 days of water supply remaining in September of 2016. While this is an extreme example that occurred in drought conditions, consistent, overall reduction in outdoor water demands in summer would result in more reliable quantities of water for public and environmental health.

RECOMMENDATION: This is crucial, ongoing issue that requires implementable solutions in the very near future. Section 5.3.2.1 Water Conservation which is a pathway forward should provide more specific action items.

EDITS AND COMMENTS ON FORM

Executive Summary

On page ES-3 under the Heading “Human Health,” We recommend bulleting the three sets of measures aimed at increasing the availability of Class A water. These measures should stand out.

Also among the Top-Ten policy RECOMMENDATIONs are three sets of measures aimed at increasing the availability of Class A water in the future, or at least reducing the impact of expanded dependence upon it.

  • The first is increased conservation practices throughout the state, following the example already established by many water utilities (Sections 5.2.3.3 and 5.3.2.1).
  • Second, the Plan recommends that Class B water be considered more routinely for non-potable uses in the future, thereby reducing the consumptive use of Class A water for uses that could be lawfully satisfied with other sources (Section 5.2.3.11).
  • Third, the Plan recommends progressive agricultural practices to help reduce impacts of irrigation on other water needs (Section 5.2.3.6).

On page ES-13 bold the results are generalized to the basin scale, and are not indicative of potential risks to small tributaries, river reaches with localized well fields nearby, or other local subsystems of the basin. This is an important detail that should not be missed by someone who will only read the Executive Summary.

Terms and Acronyms

Add Margin of Safety and Safe Yield to the list of terms.

Section 3: Preparing for Change

Section 3.1.5.1 Additional Indicators of Potential Basin Risks – It should be made clear what “water stress” means in this section. It’s too easy to assume that “water stress” may mean water quality issues. Which would lead to a reader seeing the statement, “Most land use categories exhibited no correlation with risk of water stress,” and believing that development has no impact on water quality which could not be further from the truth.

Section 5: Recommendations

On page 5-41 under Possible Partnerships: They are included under Consensus Building (Section 4 of this document) for consideration of the Water Planning Council. This appears to be a bad reference.

After approval of the plan in the next legislative session, I encourage the Water Planning Council to begin the work of drafting language for legislation for the 2019 session which will allow for action on priority policy recommendations within the Plan.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Final Report of the Connecticut State Water Plan.

Sincerely,

Alicea Charamut

River Steward