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State Water Plan Vote

Over the past several months, the State Water Planning Council (“WPC”) has held public hearings on the development of a State Water Plan, and recently submitted its draft plan to certain legislative committees of cognizance as required by statute. Next week, the State Water Plan is scheduled to be voted on at a Joint Meeting of the Public Health Committee, Energy and Technology Committee, Environment Committee and Planning and Development Committee. Although the MDC supports the development of a State Water Plan, the Plan was revised at the 11th hour to require consideration of “public trust” requirements in balancing water uses. It misapplies and misinterprets the public trust reference under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), Sec. 22a, CGS, in a way that opens the door for an expansion of the Public Trust Doctrine in Connecticut.

Specifically, the plan references the following statute:

Sec. 22a-15. Declaration of policy. It is hereby found and declared that there is a public trust in the air, water and other natural resources of the state of Connecticut and that each person is entitled to the protection, preservation and enhancement of the same. It is further found and declared that it is in the public interest to provide all persons with an adequate remedy to protect the air, water and other natural resources from unreasonable pollution, impairment or destruction.

We appreciate the hard work and countless hours expended by the WPC in developing the plan, but take issue with the inclusion of this “public trust” doctrine as beyond the scope of what was intended by the referenced statute. Generally, we agree that entities such as The Metropolitan District are entrusted with a precious natural resources that should not be polluted, impaired or destroyed, as per the attached testimony. In fact, we spend millions of ratepayers dollars to ensure just that. However, incorporating this “public trust” doctrine into the state water plan by implication brings into play the right of special interests and individuals to determine who can access these resources and the terms and conditions of such access. Those who submit that referencing 22a-15 in the state water plan is of no real significance fail to note Section 22a-16, which provides to, among others, private individuals or groups the right to commence a lawsuit challenging the decision of a water utility if that person or group believes that the “public trust” in water is jeopardized. These rights are conveyed in order to protect these resources from pollution, and the MDC, as well as many others, do not believe that these references properly belong in a planning document such as the State Water Plan..

We understand that our water supply serves a variety of different, and at times competing, interests. We strive to achieve a fair balance between those interests every day. First and foremost, we are in the business of preserving this natural resource for all to enjoy. We pride ourselves on our environmental stewardship. We are fortunate to have an abundant water supply sufficient to serve our customers and preserve our environment, but we do not engage in choosing who gets water and who does not based upon how they intend to use it. We do not, and should not, pick winners and losers. That is a matter of state and local public policy. We are concerned that incorporating the public trust doctrine into the State Water Plan and expanding the right of an individual or groups to contest how your water is distributed will adversely impact our ability to sell water that is otherwise available to sell, cause the price of water to increase unnecessarily, and delay or ultimately halt economic development and job creation. A business that wants to relocate to or expand within Connecticut will be faced with the real possibility of not having a public water supply readily available as a result of a challenge under this statute. Whether the challenge is successful or not, the delay would likely curtail any such development. For our member towns that have consistently relied upon our ability to provide water to its residents, businesses and potential businesses, this could be devastating.

In no way do we question the motives or sincerity of those who take a counter position. We have offered amendments to address our concern, but it appears that this will be for naught. We ask that your contact your legislators and the committee chairs and ranking members on this issue.

Please contact the following legislative committee chairs and ask them to remove the public trust language from the State Water Plan.

Public Health Chairs
gerratana@senatedems.ct.gov
Jonathan.Steinberg@cga.ct.gov
Heather.Somers@cga.ct.gov

Energy and Technology Chairs
winfield@senatedems.ct.gov
Lonnie.Reed@cga.ct.gov
Paul.Formica@cga.ct.gov

Environment Chairs
kennedy@senatedems.ct.gov
Mike.Demicco@cga.ct.gov
Craig.Miner@cga.ct.gov

Planning and Development Committee Chairs
cassano@senatedems.ct.gov
roland.lemar@cga.ct.gov
George.Logan@cga.ct.gov

The following is from the Connecticut Water Works Association:

A vote on the State Water Plan is expected to be held NEXT WEEK!

Environmental advocates have flooded lawmakers with emails and phone calls in support of adopting the State Water Plan, as is. Unfortunately, the Plan continues to include overreaching, problematic language requiring the public trust to be considered in balancing water uses. Requiring consideration of the public trust in balancing water uses is the same language that has been used by the courts in California and other states to curtail or reduce existing water rights, such as registered or permitted water diversions, impacting the availability of water supplies to meet public health, safety, economic development and agricultural needs. This will negatively impact a wide range of businesses that rely on adequate water supplies, including manufacturers, construction, hotels, restaurants, farms, florists and greenhouses.

PLEASE CALL OR EMAIL YOUR LEGISLATORS ASKING THEM TO DELETE THE PUBLIC TRUST LANGUAGE IN THE STATE WATER PLAN!

LET THEM KNOW THAT:
  • The language regarding public trust in the State Water Plan is overreaching and problematic;
  • Expanding the public trust doctrine in Connecticut could call into question the continued availability of water supplies, such as registered and permitted diversions, by giving DEEP and the courts more leeway to reconsider registered and/or permitted diversions and other established water uses. This will jeopardize our ability to meet the public health, safety, and economic development needs of the communities served;
  • Requiring state and local agencies to perform a public trust analysis on permits or applications involving water use will impose unnecessary burdens on water companies and other users and create delays in moving forward with needed construction and economic development projects;
  • Tying the Public Trust language to the balancing of water uses creates confusion and controversy, undermining the value of the State Water Plan as a guidance document.

Link to MDC Testimony on the State Water Plan

 
 
 
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