Senator Witkos Shares Concerns Over UConn Water Supply Proposal [Torrington Register Citizen]

January 25, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Torrington Register Citizen on January 25, 2013

UConn water plan could ruin Farmington River, area residents say

By Sarah Bogues

Mansfield — Town officials, legislators, residents and environmental groups are outraged that a proposal, handed out by the University of Connecticut to supply additional water to its Storrs campus and the town of Mansfield, could be detrimental to the natural habitats and communities along the Farmington River.

The University of Connecticut is considering three options to provide an additional 2 million gallons of water daily to serve the region and keep the water supply afloat for future educational and economic developments.

These three options include connecting with the Metropolitan District Commission by extending a pipeline from East Hartford; a connection with the Connecticut Water Company, extending a pipeline from Tolland; and a connection with Windham Water Works in Willimantic.

The most controversial though of the three options has been the MDC proposal, which rang true especially at a public hearing on Tuesday night at the Farmington Health Center. The public hearing, led by Environmental Compliance Analyst for the UConn Office of Environmental Policy Jason Coite, and David Murphy, a senior associate at Milone and MacBroom, addressed the crowd’s concerns on how the proposals for additional water would affect their communities and region.

As expected, communities expressed that the MDC proposal to divert water from the West Branch of the Farmington River, consequently allowing reductions in water levels on Hogback Reservoir and Lake McDonough, as well as the East Branch of the River, could cause long-term risks on the natural resources and potential impact on recreation – kayaking, fishing and tubing – and tourism, something Barkhamsted and New Hartford, especially, are known for.

“We believe this plan will have an adverse impact on the residents of the Farmington Valley,” a letter, presented on behalf of the Farmington Valley towns, stated. “While we support the water resource needs of the Storrs-Mansfield region, we believe that better and cheaper alternatives to the MDC proposal exist.”

Prior to the hearing, the university already received over 20 letters from the concerned members of the community. Many of them conservation groups, outdoor recreational organizations, residents and town officials.

Grady Allen of UpCountry Sportfishing, located in New Hartford, said, in a previous interview, that every business alongside the Farmington River heavily relies on the water for fishing and boating trails.

“If the water isn’t available, there will be less flowing in our areas. Without water, the businesses will dry up,” Allen said.

Besides the negative economic factor the MDC proposal would cause, disrupting the Farmington Valley’s staple worries many members of the community that rely on the Farmington River for their livelihoods and a source of tradition.

“We use the (Farmington) River for not only recreation but for a lot of the livelihoods,” said New Hartford First Selectman Dan Jerram. “Potential diversions just makes people nervous.”

“While there are three recommended options for additional water supply, I feel this is the only one that draws from an historic river, which has a federal destination of wild and scenic,” said state Sen. Kevin Witkos, who represents the 8th Senatorial district and 11 towns that he said would be adversely affected by the MDC proposal.

Because Lake McDonough, which serves both New Hartford and Barkhamsted, is used for overflow from the Barkhamsted Reservoir and is critical for recreation offered to residents and neighboring communities, drawing water from the Barkhamsted Reservoir would potentially cause an insufficient amount of water to keep the lake at an appropriate level for boating, swimming and fishing, Barkhamsted First Selectman Don Stein said.

“The (West Branch of the Farmington River) is our best known and most significant tourist attraction and attracts fisherman from many parts of the country,” Stein said in a written letter. “The potential for future diversion of West Branch waters into the Barkhamsted Reservoir could be devastating to the fish and the river environment. That would be very negative for this area, and the proposed provision of water to UConn has no positive impact for this part of the State.”

Besides accumulating a reputation of possibly devastating the Farmington River’s natural habitats and economic strength, the MDC proposal, is also the most expensive of the three options. While the Windham Water Works proposal would cost $44.4 million and the Connecticut Water Company proposal would cost $20.1 million, MDC’s would cost more than $51.2 million.

UConn and Mansfield has a long history of expressing a need of additional water. In 2002, Mansfield prepared a water supply plan which documented areas of pollution and need for water, according to Stephanie Reitz, a spokesperson for UConn. She said that Mansfield is an area where geology and geography makes the long-term water supply more challenging than in some parts of the state, constituting UConn’s water dilemma.

UConn has two wellfields, which has supplied campus facilities and buildings, off campus residences and town buildings for years, the Fenton River and the Willimantic River.

Murphy said that, on paper, UConn has an abundance of water, as both rivers release a combined 3.1 millions of gallons of water per day. Yet with dry seasons and a growing population, the amount of water needed to stay between the margin of safety just isn’t up to par. The margin of safety is supply divided by need with an acceptable margin of safety above 1.5 as recommended by the Department of Public Health. UConn’s margin of safety is below one.

Water use though, according to Murphy, is actually lower than it was five years ago, because of conservation techniques. He said that in September and October 2007, water usage dropped 11 percent from previous years.

Reitz said that the conservation efforts are due to “a robust conservation department,” active public outreach programs and a strong green building policy. UConn is also building a new water reclamation facility that will treat up to 1 million gallons of wastewater per day to transform into heating and cooling for much of the campus. This new facility will save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each day for the school, according to Reitz.

“UConn really can cause a savings of water when they implement these day to day conservation methods,” Murphy said.

Despite those efforts, the UConn still needs more water.

The MDC was asked to consider diverting its own water resources in mid-2012. If it chose do to so, the water would have been diverted to these northern communities by a pipeline system in East Hartford, since the Barkhamsted reservoir already reaches there. Several possible water sources were reviewed over the last 18 months, until UConn finally chose three possible alternatives.

The MDC would to access up to five million gallons more water per day to serve UConn and the other surrounding communities. The MDC has 50 million gallons of water drawn from the Farmington River watershed daily.

A minimum of 32 million gallons of water per day is released into the Farmington River from the MDC.

According to a statement from the MDC, water would be taken from the reservoirs, not directly from the river. Less water in the reservoirs, however, would ultimately mean less water to release downstream into the river.

Environmental Impact Evaluations were developed for UConn by its Office of Environmental Policy, to propose for additional water sources.

Murphy said that there is no front-runner of the three options nor is UConn leaning against one over another.

“All three of the proposals are all viable and each have their own environmental impacts,” Murphy said.

A decision on which proposal will be selected will not be made until the EIE has completed more thorough research and UConn has determined where funding for the project for additional funding will come from along with answering crucial, legal questions.

The public has an opportunity to submit comments until Jan. 31. Comments can be sent to Jason M. Coite, University of Connecticut, Office of Environmental Policy, 31 LeDoyt Road, U-3055 Storrs, CT 06269-3055.