Should UConn Prime the Pump for Water Planning?

State water planning needs a project manager. The WPC is taking your comments about UConn’s offer to do the job. (See more info under Instructions for Public Comment.)

You may well remember the recent controversy over possibly piping drinking water from the Farmington Watershed to the University of Connecticut– and the bigger debate it triggered over how we make water supply decisions in Connecticut. After the political dust settled, UConn had chosen an alternate water supply, and new legislation, PA 14-163, mandated the development of a state water plan ASAP.   Hurray!

Now for a reality check.   Water planning costs money, and the legislature didn’t vote enough funds to fully support it. For planning to move forward on schedule, we need to find creative ways to get going. Even so, some were surprised to hear that a draft Memorandum of Understanding had been drawn up between the state Water Planning Council (WPC) and the University of Connecticut. UConn had offered resources to the WPC that could help solve the problem of state underfunding. The proposed agreement would accordingly give UConn an important role in the planning process.

UConn?   Just imagine the ringing phones at FRWA! People were exclaiming, “But last year they wanted to move water across the state for their own use!” and muttering about foxes running henhouses and conflicts of interest. FRWA communicated to the WPC in early August that the proposed agreement with UConn was worrisome, and requested that WPC allow for extra outreach to stakeholders on this point.   Despite looming deadlines, the Council responded. It deferred the MOU decision for a 30-day public comment period ending Sept. 5.  This gives more people a chance to actually read the draft MOU and, if concerned, make constructive suggestions.

What’s in it? The draft MOU states that “The services of UConn shall be limited to oversight and assistance in identifying, developing and recommending the processes necessary for the development of the Plan.”   UConn’s Associate Vice President for Strategic Projects, Thomas Callahan, would be charged at first with helping the WPC identify a process for developing the plan, a.k.a. “the plan for the plan.”   He would then oversee the process for developing the plan, over the next two and half years. The University would bear the cost of Mr. Callahan’s time. Also notable in the MOU is that the first task listed is to identify the process for stakeholder involvement in planning. So UConn’s assignment is primarily to manage the project, while including many participants, and answering to the WPC. (A link to the full MOU is below.)

It could be a good start– if all goes well. If the final MOU keeps these statements, and if the planning process is indeed inclusive, and if the legislature adds more funding, and if transparency and active outreach are kept up, and if political pressure can be maintained– then maybe this time all the dedicated professionals working on this project will finally be able to craft a plan. (FRWA’s comments are all the way under the link to the MOU)

An interim planning meeting held by the WPC on August 19 was encouraging—well attended, well organized, and collaborative rather than contentious, even with a wide variety of interests represented. FRWA supports their hard work on a complicated issue. At the same time, we are committed to advocating a plan that keeps water in our rivers and streams.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR PUBLIC COMMENT
The Water Planning Council (WPC), established pursuant to Section 25-33o of the CGS has been charged to prepare, within available appropriations,  a state water plan for the management of the water resources of the state, in accordance with Public Act 14-163: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/ACT/pa/pdf/2014PA-00163-R00HB-05424-PA.pdf

The public act specifies what shall be included and considered in the plan and requires that the plan be completed by July 1, 2017.

The law further allows, within available appropriations, for the Office of Policy and Management, on behalf of the Water Planning Council, to enter into one or more memoranda of understanding with independent consultants for advice or assistance in developing and compiling the state water plan.  Such assistance may include, but need not be limited to, data collection, storage and organization of data as deemed necessary by the Water Planning Council.

The University of Connecticut has offered to provide services at no cost to the Water Planning Council, under a Memorandum of Understanding, to provide assistance to the WPC in support of its efforts to create a state water plan as outlined in the attached DRAFT MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING: http://www.dpuc.state.ct.us/DPUCINFO.nsf/a83f79d989c4d48b8525743a0050a53f/97510e37e4c981be85257d33004e8907/$FILE/draft%20WPC-UConn%20MOU.doc

The Water Planning Council is soliciting public comment, to be provided to the Council by September 5, 2014, on:

1.       the Draft Memorandum of Understanding with the University and any recommendations on the  process or conditions of the proposed agreement; and

2.       any recommended alternative approaches to develop the plan, with identification of anticipated costs and funding sources for such approaches

Comments should be emailed to: bruce.wittchen@ct.gov

or mailed to:

Water Planning Council
C/o Bruce Wittchen
Office of Policy & Management
450 Capitol Ave, MS# 54ORG
Hartford, CT 06106

All comments must be received by September 5, 2014.

 

Finally, FRWA’s Comments:

August 27,2014

 

Water Planning Council, c/o Bruce Wittchen
Office of Policy & Management
450 Capitol Ave, MS# 54ORG
Hartford, CT 06106

Comments from FRWA concerning the Council’s Draft MOU with the University of Connecticut.

Dear Members of the Water Planning Council,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft Memorandum of Understanding between the WPC and the University of Connecticut. Given your tight schedule for progress on the state water plan, granting a 30-day public comment period for this is a significant gesture to ensure transparency and public support, which FRWA fully appreciates.

As noted in FRWA’s letter to the Council on August 4, our primary concern is the need for interested parties in the Farmington Valley to review the MOU before it is finalized. In the past two years, individuals, town governments, and other organizations in the Farmington Valley raised strong objections to a proposal that Farmington Watershed (i.e., MDC) water be provided to UConn to meet its future water needs.   UConn’s water needs were seen by many (rightly or wrongly) as a threat to the historic management of the Farmington Watershed’s water.

For that reason, our regional stakeholders are especially anxious to satisfy themselves that the proposed MOU can in fact give UConn a leading role in statewide water planning without giving the University a disproportionate influence on water allocation. We expect that the terms of the draft MOU will for the most part address that concern. In any case, the comment period provides a forum for discussion.

FRWA has one suggestion for Phase 1(a)ii in the draft MOU. The statement “This assistance shall include, but not be limited, to… arrangement of educational presentations or workshops as needed” could be changed to “shall include, but not be limited to… arrangement of educational presentations or workshops as needed, including presentations recommended by the Water Planning Council Advisory Group.” The purpose is to facilitate occasional extra public outreach on occasions when Advisory Group members see a need to clarify the planning process for citizens in various interest groups. Public understanding is vital to continued legislative support.

FRWA agrees with other stakeholders that additional resources for supporting water planning should be explored, such as securing adequate state funding or engaging pro bono help where practical. This does not mean that the MOU with UConn should be scrapped, but rather that all opportunities be considered as the plan is developed.

Sincerely,

Eileen Fielding, Executive Director

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