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Got Water?

Planning council looks at state’s water resources and needs

 

By Wiley Wood

A draft of the Connecticut State Water Plan was presented on Sept. 14 to a gathering of the chief elected officials of the towns in northwest Connecticut.

While Connecticut has ample high-quality water to meet its needs, according to Lori Mathieu of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, it can’t afford to waste the resource.

Mathieu reminded the municipal chiefs of the drought in the summer of 2016, when some reservoirs in the state sank to 20 percent of capacity and Waterbury experienced a severe water shortage.

“Climate change is real,” said Mathieu. “Our plan looked at that.” Warmer, wetter winters are expected, and drier summers, changes likely to stress the system.

The plan identifies lawn irrigation as a major use of Connecticut’s drinking water. “Connecticut is one of the most protective of drinking water in the country,” said Mathieu.“We shouldn’t be wasting it on watering grass.”

Betsey Wingfield of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and a member, like Mathieu, of the Water Planning Council, praised innovative practices that use non-potable Class-B water for irrigation and pointed to UConn, which has a program to put waste water on its athletic fields.

Daniel Jerram, first selectman of New Hartford, said his town was addressing the wasteful use of drinking water with new zoning regulations that prohibit “big, sweeping lawns” in new developments.

Also among the issues that Wingfield identified was the oversubscription of some Connecticut streams and rivers. Registered water diversions, grandfathered in the 1980s, give some municipalities the legal right to water allotments that would leave streams dry if the towns were ever to claim them.

The dilemma of grandfathered water diversions is one that the plan may help resolve, Wingfield suggested, not by providing specific policy recommendations but by gathering in one place the data that planners and legislators will need to arrive at sound decisions.

The plan provides information on each of the 36 river basins in the state, including the Blackberry River Basin where much of Norfolk and Canaan are located. The northern portions of the state, on the whole, have high streamflow and low water use, even during periods of peak stress, whereas the reverse is true in southern Connecticut.

Wingfield further remarked that 25 to 30 percent of Connecticut’s residents draw their water from private wells, yet there are no testing requirements. While the plan makes no recommendations, said Wingfield, “we need more public discussion on this issue.”

And on another issue that may resonate in Norfolk, Wingfield noted that the aging infrastructure for water supply and waste water in many towns across the state is in need of major investment.

“What is a major concern for water in your town?” Wingfield asked the first selectmen and mayors at the Northwest Hills Council of Government meeting.

The plan, which urges a balanced use of Connecticut’s water for human and environmental needs, is available online at the ct.gov website. The period of public review and comment remains open until Nov. 20.

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