Comments from the FRWA on the Draft State Water Plan

Below are FRWA’s comments on the Draft State Water Plan.  For more information on the Draft State Water Plan and how to submit your own comments, please visit the Rivers Alliance of CT’s website by clicking here: riversalliance.org/Topics/State_Water_Plan.php

Comments from the Farmington River Watershed Association on the Draft State Water Plan

The Farmington River Watershed Association (FRWA) has a special interest in the outcome of the state water planning process.  It was public outcry in 2012 over the possible sale of water from the Farmington River Watershed (specifically the Metropolitan District Commission’s Barkhamsted Reservoir) to the University of Connecticut in Storrs that provided the political pressure to finalize a state water plan after years of hiatus.  Farmington Valley residents were surprised that MDC could propose a sale to such a distant customer, and objected to what seemed to be an ad hoc approach to solving UConn’s water supply problem.  They realized that without a state water plan, there was a lack of readily available information about water resources statewide, and a lack of guidance as to whether any proposed water sale made sense for the state as a whole, or for water as a public trust.

FRWA participated as a stakeholder in the preparation of the Draft State Water Plan, serving on the Water Planning Council Advisory Group’s Science and Technical Committee, attending meetings of the Water Planning Council and the Water Utility Coordinating Committees, and participating in workshops hosted by the consulting firms CDM Smith and Milone and MacBroom.  As a river advocacy organization, FRWA looked for a planning process that would

  1. clarify the state of Connecticut’s water resources;
  2. set forth the needs and the options for balancing in-stream water requirements with human water consumption demands;
  3. propose fair mechanisms for deciding how water could be extracted, sold, and moved by water utilities vs. allocated for other essential purposes;
  4. fully recognize the value of maintaining aquatic ecosystems such as rivers, streams, and wetlands, since these are not only valuable in themselves, but also tied closely to human well-being;
  5. be transparent and have mechanisms for input from a broad range of stakeholders and the general public.

In reality, the Draft State Water Plan does not, and cannot, fully address these concerns, but it does make some progress in the right direction.  The following comments expand on that remark.

  1. Clarifying the status of CT water resources. Overall, given its tight timeline and its budget constraints, the Draft State Water Plan is an impressive compilation and presentation of information, and a useful framework for next steps.  The Water Planning Council, the supporting Committees, and the consulting firms are to be thanked and congratulated on reaching this point.

Even though this summary of Connecticut’s water resources is perhaps the most broad and comprehensive to date, the water data in its basin summary sheets should be interpreted with care.  For some estimates on those sheets, the margin of error was necessarily large.  Also, figures for water availability that represent averages over time can mask the severity of short-term fluctuations in available water.  Lack of information about registered diversions introduces uncertainty.  For example, the basin summaries show the natural flow of a river, and how much of that flow is usually in the channel or diverted for human use.  But in many basin summaries, the number of registered diversions on a river exceeds the total flow of the river.  The obvious conclusion is that the registered diversions are not all in use, or there would be far more dry riverbeds than at present.  But which registrations are in use?  Which are obsolete?  Which might be re-activated and cause a problem later on?  Added to that, how might climate change amplify future flow variation? Those questions need answers in order to craft a reasonable plan for any given river.

Another cautionary note relates to the geographic scale of the basin summaries.  In the Farmington River basin, there is often a disparity between flow in small tributaries and flow in the mainstem, especially since the latter is artificially maintained by releases from impoundments.  We might be lulled by the fact that the basin as a whole looks robust.  But to evaluate possible impacts of our actions on smaller streams within the watershed we should check more localized data, and do location-specific modeling.  This warning applies to other river basins as well.

The draft plan and its executive summary already contain these caveats.  We repeat them here to emphasize that the Draft State Water Plan is the starting point for much more work.

  1. Needs, and options, for balancing in-stream water requirements with human consumption demands.

The draft plan repeatedly states the intent to balance in-stream water needs with human consumptive needs.  However, we agree with comments by Rivers Alliance of Connecticut and others, that “balance” needs clearer definition.  One obstacle to defining balance is that there’s a wealth of quantitative data about how to meet human consumptive needs for water, and a large number of people who are familiar with that information; but biological needs for water in aquatic habitats, and the value of meeting those needs, are less well documented and understood by fewer people.  Lack of knowledge is easily interpreted as lack of importance; despite intent to be even-handed, the better documented side carries more emphasis.   That said, the basin summary sheets do graphically present ecological use and human consumptive use side by side for each of the 44 sub-basins studied.  This is a step in the right direction.  Going forward, our understanding of “balance” should be finer-tuned as more information emerges about the ecosystem services and economic values of our streams and rivers.

The available options for balancing in-stream requirements with water supply demands are presented in the draft plan as information only, without expressed preference, which is a necessary first step.  How we decide to choose among options is deferred to some later stage.

  1. Fair mechanisms for deciding how water can be extracted, sold, and moved by water utilities vs. allocated for other essential purposes.

It’s fair to say that this issue generated the political impetus in 2012-13 for developing a State Water Plan (and for organizing the Water Utility Coordinating Committees). But in actuality, it covers a broader area of concerns, and involves more regulations, plans, and policies, than this State Water Plan can encompass.  The draft plan provides no formulas or criteria for allocating water to this or that purpose.  Rather than prescribing a resolution for the conflict that spurred the legislature to authorize this State Water Plan in the first place, the draft plan organizes information and options that will be relevant to resolution later on.  Again, it’s a platform for future decisions rather than a set of decisions in itself.

  1. Fully recognizing the value of maintaining aquatic ecosystems such as rivers, streams, and wetlands.

This point was discussed above, but two more points can be added that we recommend as additions to the draft plan.  The value of aquatic ecosystems would be better recognized if:

  1. An estimated dollar value was put on their “ecosystem services” such as water filtration, pollution detoxification, the transport and cycling of nutrients, etc., as well as other public goods such as recreation, wastewater reception, etc.; and
  2. The water plan explicitly points out that it should not be legal to pump a river dry. Right now, a waterway can be legally pumped dry if it is over-allocated to registered diversions; or due to the fact that groundwater pumping is not currently included in state streamflow regulations.
  3. Transparent process with mechanisms for input from a broad range of stakeholders and the general public.

The development of the draft state water plan was an open public process, and inclusive of many stakeholders.  There was one glaring lack of transparency, however, arising from the exemption of water supply plans from Freedom of Information requests.  Despite the best efforts of advocacy groups and the Department of Public Health, this problem was never satisfactorily resolved.  It is still virtually impossible for a citizen of Connecticut to obtain a water utility’s water supply plan without unreasonable delay (if it can be obtained at all) and without a degree of redaction that goes well beyond what’s necessary for security purposes.

Fortunately, the consultants who prepared the Draft Water Plan were granted access to the information, so we can be reasonably sure that the aggregated data are credible.  But going forward, more people must have access to more information, if stakeholders and citizens are to have any meaningful role in all the policy decisions that still lie ahead.   On this point, and on many others, we concur with the comments provided by Rivers Alliance of Connecticut.

As emphasized repeatedly in the Draft State Water Plan itself, the document is a starting point.  It identifies gaps in scientific knowledge, procedures that need to be established but are as yet undeveloped, and unresolved policy decisions that remain to be addressed.

 

FRWA Annual Meeting November 9, 2017 5:30-7:30PM

 

Join FRWA for an account of the groundbreaking 2017 River Smart Program, this year’s stewardship projects, a discussion of the State Water Plan (and other issues) and a look forward into 2018!  Delicious hearty appetizers, desserts and coffee. $15 per person
(You may RSVP and pay at the door or buy your ticket via Eventbrite)

location: Simsbury Free Library, 749 Hopmeadow Street, Simsbury, CT 06070

Limited Seating!  RSVP by Monday, November 6.

RSVP by phone: 860-658-4442 ext. 201
email: apetras@frwa.org
or visit us online at
 Frwa.org/AM2017

Using Water Wisely & Be River Smart – October 3 7pm

October 3, 2017 – 7pm-8:30pm, Simsbury Public Library.

Conservation is a vital part of the water supply discussion. ‘Using Water Wisely’, presented by Aquarion Water Co., covers newly enacted irrigation restrictions, and illustrates many simple and inexpensive solutions that homeowners can adopt.  ‘Be River Smart,’ presented by FRWA, connects homeowner actions with the river environment.  Its focus is stormwater , with examples of how to reduce the stormwater pollution entering streams and rivers from neighborhoods.  Join us to become wise and smart!

 

Lawn Care Workshop – Winsted Beardsley Library – October 12 6:30pm

Fall is a perfect time to prep your lawn for next year’s success.  Temperatures are great for grass seed germination and shorter daylight hours keep your kids off the grass while you begin your fall lawn care.

Are you still unsure of what to do?  Want to learn more on how to manage your lawn without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides (which are really not necessary for growing turf)??   Join us at one of our fall workshops:

September 21 at the Simsbury Public Library, 6:30 – 8:00 pm.

September 28 at the Canton Public Library, 6:30 – 8:00 pm.

October 12 at the Beardsley Library, Winsted, 6:30-8:00 pm.

We will cover seeding, aeration, common lawn weeds, grub and other pests and more.  Go home from this workshop with concrete ideas on how to improve your lawn without using harmful chemicals.

Fall Lawn Care Workshop – Canton Public Library – Sept. 28 6:30pm

Fall is a perfect time to prep your lawn for next year’s success.  Temperatures are great for grass seed germination and shorter daylight hours keep your kids off the grass while you begin your fall lawn care.

Are you still unsure of what to do?  Want to learn more on how to manage your lawn without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides (which are really not necessary for growing turf)??   Join us at one of our fall workshops:

September 28 at the Canton Public Library, 6:30 – 8:00 pm:  Registration requested to the Canton Public Library:  bvanness@cantonpubliclibrary.org

We will cover seeding, aeration, common lawn weeds, grub and other pests and more.  Go home from this workshop with concrete ideas on how to improve your lawn without using harmful chemicals.

Fall Natural Lawn Care Workshops! Simsbury

Fall is a perfect time to prep your lawn for next year’s success.  Temperatures are great for grass seed germination and shorter daylight hours keep your kids off the grass while you begin your fall lawn care.

Are you still unsure of what to do?  Want to learn more on how to manage your lawn without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides (which are really not necessary for growing turf)??   Join us at one of our fall workshops:

September 21 at the Simsbury Public Library, 6:30 – 8:00 pm.

September 28 at the Canton Public Library, 6:30 – 8:00 pm.

October 12 at the Beardsley Library, Winsted, 6:30-8:00 pm.

We will cover seeding, aeration, common lawn weeds, grub and other pests and more.  Go home from this workshop with concrete ideas on how to improve your lawn without using harmful chemicals.

 

Discovering Native American History on the Farmington River With Dr. Kenneth Feder – Monday 9/25/17

Co-sponsored by FRWA and the Lower Farmington/Salmon Brook Wild & Scenic Study Committee
7:00 PM |Simsbury Library Community Room

“Kenny” Feder is professor of archaeology at Central Connecticut State University, author of several books on archaeology, and founder and director of the Farmington River Archaeological Project, a study of the prehistory of the Farmington River region in northwest CT.

Kenny’s also an excellent raconteur and storyteller!  He will take us on a virtual trip down the Farmington to reveal the river’s fascinating Native American history.  Stops will include his research sites at the Barkhamsted Lighthouse (featured in his book Village of Outcasts), the Tunxis village in Farmington, and Alsop Meadow in Avon.

He will also talk about his new book, Ancient America: Fifty Archaeological Sites to See For Yourself, published in 2017.

Registration is not required but is much appreciated for planning.  To register, please contact FRWA at (860) 658-4442 x205, or email: dmcwhirter@frwa.org

Volunteers Needed! Join our Annual River Clean-Up September 23, 10am to 1pm

Last year, over 200 volunteers joined together to remove trash from the banks of the Farmington River.  We are  securing all the supplies for the big day (gloves, bags, napkins, apples, apple cider, etc) and lining up coffee and lunch for volunteers including sandwiches from Antonio’s, coffee from Starbucks and Pizza from Little City Pizza.  We are on the lookout for pick-up trucks or other large vehicles that can help us get trash to the dumpsters donated by Waste Material Trucking Company of Unionville, CT.

So where will you be?  We do need lots of volunteers! If you are part of another group that might be interested, please let us know.  Join us to meet your watershed neighbors and help us keep your neighborhood clean; it’s guaranteed you will make new friends.  Please call FRWA at (860) 658-4442 or email apetras@frwa.org to register.

A Sample of our Clean-Up Meet-up Locations – September 23, 10am to 1pm

Avon: The Lions Club of Avon takes responsibility for cleaning Fisher Meadows and they do a great job, year after year.

Bloomfield:  The Wintonbury Land Trust is coordinating this location.  Meet at Farmington River Park. Clean up from 10-noon.

Barkhamsted: Location TBD

Collinsville: We will meet at Collinsville Canoe & Kayak and will have a tent and snacks available.  This is our most popular site thanks to area residents!

Simsbury:  Meet on the front lawn of FRWA headquarters. This is our main spot and also the place to grab some coffee before heading out or get some pizza and other lunch items after you are done.

Windsor: Meet at Windsor Town Hall (please register for specifics) to clean popular Windsor Locations such as The Boat Launch at the reservoir and Pleasant Street Park.

Call FRWA to sign-up yourself, your family, or your group for the Clean-Up at (860) 658-4442 or email your registration with a preferred meet-up location to apetras@frwa.org.  And see you there!

 

Saville Dam and Old Barkhamsted Hollow Bus Tour and Short Hike

Saville Dam and Old Barkhamsted Hollow Bus tour and short hike

Saturday October 28th 2017 – 10 am to 3 pm

Cost: $20 per FRWA member; $25 Non-member (prepayment guarantees space)

Join us for a tour deep inside the bowels of the Saville Dam followed by a trek to some of the old Barkhamsted foundations spared inundation as the Barkhamsted Reservoir filled. We complete our tour with a visit to the relocated and renovated old Barkhamsted Center schoolhouse. The history and preservation of our watershed is interwoven with the story of the Metropolitan District and the pursuit of clean drinking water for Greater Hartford.

The operator of the Saville Dam will guide us through the works of the earthen embankment impoundment that backs up the 30 billion gallon Barkhamsted reservoir providing drinking water for Greater Hartford. After touring the dam, we venture onto the reservoir lands where the MDC forester will explain, over our lunch, how the MDC manages forest diversity for water quality.

Then Barkhamsted Historian, Erik Landgraf will tour us around the relics of old Barkhamsted Hollow, a village mostly flooded by the creation of the Barkhamsted Reservoir in 1940. Structures that were not flooded were torn down or moved by the water company, but not without a trace. Mr. Landgraf will bring the old town roaring back to life as he regales us with vignettes of life in the village, as past and present eerily meet. Then it’s hands on in the old Barkhamsted Center schoolhouse; we’ll see what you remember of your school days.

Trace history in your watershed!

Pre-registration is required, space is limited, contact FRWA at (860) 658-4442, or email: river@frwa.org to register; Tour begins at 10:00 am, dress for the weather, wear footwear to walk in the woods, pack a lunch and water.