Witkos: MDC Option No Longer Part of Future Water Supply Plan for the University of Connecticut [Canton Patch]

August 6, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Canton Patch on August 6, 2013

By John Fitts

Diverting water from the Farmington River watershed is no longer an option to fulfill the future water needs of the University of Connecticut, according to state Sen. Kevin Witkos.

Witkos said he was informed by the university Monday that the Metropolitan District Commission option will not be on the table when the University of Connecticut board of trustees meets Wednesday morning on the Environmental Impact Evaluation of the plan to provide up to 1.93 million gallons daily in additional water supply for future growth on the Storrs campus and Mansfield center.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Witkos told Patch. “It just shows what people can do when communities stick together.”

Media relations officials at UConn and the MDC could not be immediately reached for comment Monday evening.

During a study to meet future water needs at UConn, the MDC became one of three “viable” options. It would have drawn water from Farmington River watershed dams and diverted it to Storrs and Mansfield Center, partially through existing infrastructure in East Hartford.

The others were “Interconnection with The Connecticut Water Company’s Northern Operations Western System in Tolland and Interconnection with Windham Water Works system in southern Mansfield.

The Hartford Courant is citing sources stating that Connecticut Water is the University’s choice. However, the decision would only become official with the board of trustees vote Wednesday.

Despite the criticism of its proposal earlier this year, The MDC contended that the reservoirs had plenty of capacity to meet the needs and not harm the river.

Earlier in the year, Chris Stone, Assistant District Counsel to the MDC, told Patch, “The MDC has the existing capacity within its safe yield to supply 12 million gallons of water per day (MGD) to future customers without impacting existing customers or diverting additional water from the Farmington River.”

However, the option drew sharp criticism from officials throughout the Farmington Valley and advocacy groups such as Trout Unlimited.

Simsbury officials, for example, quickly responded to the news of the proposal with a letter critical of UConn’s process and requested a 30-day extension to the public comment period.

UConn eventually extended public comment and held a hearing in the Farmington Valley.

“The EIE assumes that adequate flow in the West Branch can be maintained based on a study using flow data from 1970 to 1990,” wrote Farmington Valley Trout Unlimited Chapter president William F. Case earlier this year. “Given recent changes in climate, the near disaster during this past summer, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and the dry period in 2010, we question whether the 1970-1990 data adequately reflects violent storm events and long periods of extremely dry weather that seem to be more the norm. West Branch economic activity generated by anglers and boaters is significant when flows are adequate, but that activity declines to near zero during a dry August and September.”

Canton First Selectman Richard Barlow also argued it would have violated state planning due to its proposed interbasin water transfer and opened up the possibility of much greater diversions to other towns along the pipeline and did not adequately reflect the worst-case scenarios for the river.

Others were concerned about the lack of transparency in the process and the failure of UConn and MDC to include Farmington Valley towns in the initial dialogue.

“This process has not been transparent,” state Rep. John Hampton said earlier this year. “And it’s a problem for all of our towns, not just Mansfield and Storrs.”