Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the changes proposed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to Section 22a-377(b)-1 of the water diversion regulations. The Connecticut River Watershed Council is in full support of this change.
Registered diversions have long been a concern of water resource advocates within the environmental community as well as users of our rivers and streams. These diversions were neither subject to an environmental review by DEEP to assess the impact of their withdrawals on the water sources nor were they based on the amount of water that the sources can supply. In some cases, the registered withdrawal amount far exceeds the amount of available water at the source. These registrations allow the holder to legally dry up a river, stream, or groundwater source.
When existing withdrawals were registered upon the adoption of the Diversion Act, public water suppliers were asked to provide the area served by the water system. A diversion permit would be required to use registered water beyond the area defined in the registration. However, through an exemption in the diversion regulations a public water supplier can use registered water to supply an exclusive service area without obtaining a permit. This regulation change which will remove this exemption for new exclusive service areas will not completely fix the problems that result from registrations but will prevent them from being exacerbated by the Water Utility Coordinating Committee (WUCC) process that is currently underway as well as from pressure to consolidate water systems.
For the most part, the WUCC process is a force for good and will provide many public health benefits. The coordination of systems ensures service availability in all regions and the redundancy necessary to meet supply needs, regional assessments will help identify current and potential supply challenges, and has the potential to re-evaluate public water supply adequacy. One of the primary responsibilities of each WUCC is to set up exclusive service area boundaries. The establishment of these boundaries is to meet the aforementioned public health goals. However as currently written, Section 22a-377(b)-1 Exemptions from the Connecticut water diversion policy act exempts a registered diversion holder from obtaining a diversion permit for expanding service to an exclusive service area. So, in other words, as long as this exemption remains in the regulation as currently written, the area in which registered water can be used can be greatly expanded.
Concurrently, there is a desire to promote consolidation of systems by the Department of Public Health (DPH). DPH is currently facing the same difficult task of balancing mandatory budget cuts with maintaining core services and programs that all other state agencies are experiencing. Connecticut has an inordinate amount of water suppliers for a small state which makes regulating and monitoring their activities a monumental task for the agency. DPH is advocating for a reduction in the number of water suppliers through acquisition and consolidation in order to maintain the ability to ensure public health while facing resource reductions. Therefore, we expect to see the acquisition of exclusive service areas through consolidation to continue beyond the conclusion of the WUCC process.
The diversion permitting process is not a barrier to reaching public health goals. It is a process for diverting the waters of the State of Connecticut that establishs a balance between the interests of different water users. A diversion permit is not a stop sign but a yield sign necessary to ensure that Connecticut will have water for fish and faucet far into the future. The diversion permitting process also allows for public participation in the decision making process for management and allocation for what is and always should be a public trust resource.