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MDC Vies To Meet Water Needs Of UConn’s Storrs Campus

See also our posting of the comments of Bill Case, President of the Farmington Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, outlining concerns about the MDC proposal to divert water from the Barkhamsted and Nepaug reservoirs to serve the needs of the UConn campus.
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Gary Pontelondolfo: NH+ INDEPENDENT

When I stopped by UpCountry Sportfishing on Route 44 in New Hartford on Christmas Eve, I expected I might find people busy purchasing last-minute gifts for the outdoorsmen on their lists. Indeed, four people were clustered around the cash register, but shopping didn’t seem to be the most important thing on their minds. As I approached, I realized they were talking about the developing story of MDC’s bid to send water from the Farmington River watershed across the state to help meet the needs of the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

I first heard about this plan a few short weeks ago when news began to break about the plan on the part of the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) to expand their service area and customer base into Mansfield.

Fishermen walking along the river near the Route 219 bridge. Photo: Maria Moore

The MDC, formed as a non-profit, quasi-municipal corporation in 1929, currently serves over 400,000 customers in the city of Hartford as well as in seven other member towns – Bloomfield, East Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor – and beyond in non-member towns and state facilities. Their pipelines from our local Barkhamsted and Nepaug reservoirs currently extend as far as New Britain, Portland and Manchester, from which the MDC now proposes constructing an approximately 20-mile branch to serve the expanding UConn campus. In order to supply UConn as well as other communities along the proposed pipeline route, the MDC would need to access up to 5 million gallons per day in addition to its current use of 50 million gallons or so per day that they already draw from the Farmington River watershed.

The MDC’s proposal to supply water to meet UConn’s needs is one of seven alternative proposals currently being evaluated by UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy/Environmental Compliance. That office, according to its website, evaluates the environmental impact of proposed projects “where the complexity and scale, technology, resource allocation or siting considerations:

  • create uncertainty about the exact nature of environmental effects, or
  • result in a potential for significant adverse environmental effects.”

The seven alternatives to augment UConn’s water supply are listed on UConn’s OEP website as:

  1. Section 5, Alternative #1: No action or no build;
  2. Section 6, #2: Replacement of Well A at the Fenton River wellfield;
  3. Section 7, #3: Interconnection with the Connecticut Water Company;
  4. Section 8, #4: Interconnection with the Metropolitan District Commission ;
  5. Section 9, #5: Interconnection with the Windham Water Works;
  6. Section 10, #6: New wellfield along the Willimantic River;
  7. Section 11, #7: New wellfield nearby Mansfield Hollow Lake.

In Section 12, Selection of Preferred Alternative, UConn’s OEP provides an analysis of the seven alternatives and based on its analysis, it states that the University intends to further pursue three of these options, one of which is the MDC proposal.

The OEP held a public hearing on this project at its UConn campus on December 11, 2012. That office has recently extended its deadline to receive public input to January 4, 2013.

To read about the seven alternatives and the analysis which led to the MDC proposal being selected as one of the three preferred alternatives, visit the OEP website.

Why Expand To UConn?

There are more local and less costly alternatives to meeting UConn’s water needs. Why, then, is the MDC vieing to become UConn’s water supplier? The answer can be found on the MDC’s website in their Strategic Plan in the Business Goals section. We have made a downloadable copy of this plan available below for easy reference.

Objective #1 is to “Expand the customer base to optimize use of water assets and grow revenue.” (see page 7 of the document).

In the same document, under an earlier heading “A Different Set of Challenges Today,” is the following explanation: “In our early days, we had to expand our system to handle the dynamic growth of communities surrounding Hartford; now… revenues from potable water have declined in recent years due to conservation and… loss of water-intensive industry.” (see page 4 of the document)

The MDC is also facing the challenges of “keeping [its] significant and aging infrastructure in good repair — at significant cost.”

View the MDC strategic plan: MDCStrategicPlan.pdf

The majority of the MDC’s governing District Board – which has the authority to levy taxes on the member municipalities in order to finance MDC’s operations and capital budget – represent those same eight member municipalities (12 of the 29 voting members are appointed by the Governor or State Legislature). Thus, the board has the incentive and bias to lower costs imposed on its members’ taxpayers by selling water at a profit to as many non-member entities as possible. In its bid to supply water to UConn, the MDC’s plan would spread the potential $50 million infrastructure cost among all its taxpayers throughout the state.

Why Expand Its Use Of Water From The Farmington River?

Currently, all of the water the MDC takes from the Farmington watershed comes from either the river’s East Branch (drawn from the Barkhamsted Reservoir) or from the Nepaug Reservoir, downriver from where the East and West branches merge. But in the Business Goals section of the MDC’s Strategic Plan, you will find as part of Objective #4: “Secure rights to water … from the West Branch of the Farmington River.”

Historically, diversion from the now federally protected “Wild and Scenic” West Branch is not a new idea – but there appears to be renewed interest on the part of the MDC to pursue this potential source of additional water, and thus revenue. The most likely way this could be accomplished would be to pipe water from the West Branch Reservoir or Hogback Reservoir (located just below Colebrook River Lake) over to the Barkhamsted Reservoir.

Local Impact Of MDC’s Plan

According to Grady Allen, proprietor of UpCountry Sportfishing as well as vice president of the Farmington River Anglers Association, on prime weekends up to 2,000 people fish the local stretches of the Farmington River. Add to that number up to 3,000 tubers, kayakers and canoeists on any fair-weather summer weekend and you start to get a sense of the economic vitality that these recreational users bring to our local communities. Reduced flow imperils the local fish population as the water warms up and pools are diminished; and, of course, tubers and kayakers always prefer higher than lower flows.

The MDC stresses in its press releases that water will be taken from the reservoirs and not directly from the river. However, this may be a semantic point: Less water in the reservoirs would ultimately mean that there would be less water to release downstream into the river.

Read the MDC’s recent press release on its website.

Powerful Advocacy Group Silenced

The influential Farmington River Watershed Association had posted a petition opposing MDC’s plans on its website and was prepared to testify at the December 11 public hearing in Storrs. However, according to FRWA’s website:

“Attorneys for the MDC have drawn [our] attention to an agreement that was signed in 1998 to settle the controversy that arose from an earlier MDC attempt to divert water from the Farmington River. The MDC maintains that the agreement forbids FRWA’sadvocacy in connection with the current controversy …”

The FRWA has since “[withdrawn] any comments it made before MDC’s attorneys demanded that it cease and desist. The more than four hundred signatures placed on its petition in the few days that it was open will not be delivered.”

Other Advocacy Groups

The MDC was able to silence a powerful advocacy group for the river, the Farmington River Watershed Association, but it has not been able to silence other advocacy groups.
Local organizations that are still free to advocate against the MDC’s plans include the following. Check out their websites for more information on the MDC proposal to supply UConn with water:

To date, the town governments of Canton and Simsbury have also formally expressed concerns regarding the MDC’s plans.

Steps You Can Take

  • FRAA Meeting: The next meeting of the Farmington River Anglers Association will be held on Wednesday, January 16 at the Farmington Community Center, 321 New Britain Ave. (next door to the Police Department) in Unionville. The public is invited to hear fish biologist Neil Hagstrom of the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection give a presentation regarding the impacts on and overall health of the Farmington River over the past year. There will be an opportunity for questions and discussion and it is very likely that the MDC’s proposed diversion plan will be addressed.  For more information on the meeting and the FRAA, visit fraa.org, or call Grady Allen at 860-379-1952.
  • Read the comments of the state Council of Environmental Quality submitted to UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy at www.riversalliance.org/Farmington/UCONN_water_sources_EIE_comments.pd
  • Public Comments To UConn’s OEP: Public comments (which will become part of the legal record) on UConn’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding the various proposals to augment its water supply will be accepted until January 4, 2013. The MDC proposal is “Alternative #4.”

To view the EIS or for directions on how to comment, visit the UCONN Environmental Impact Evaluations Page.

Written comments, including requests for extension of the comment deadline, may be sent to:

Jason M. Coite
UConn Office of Environmental
Policy
31 LeDoyt Road, U-3055
Storrs, CT 06269
Phone 860-486-9305
Fax 860-486-5477.
Email: jason.coite@uconn.edu

  • Contact Town Officials, Legislators: You may also contact your local town government as well as state and federal elected officials.
  • Feel free to copy us at The INDEPENDENT with your comments at  garyp@newhartfordplus.com.
A view of the West branch of the Farmington River. Photo: Gary Pontelandolfo

A view of the West branch of the Farmington River. Photo: Gary Pontelandolfo

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  • http://www.facebook.com/gary.pontelandolfo Gary Pontelandolfo

    Sorry, but we got our photo captions crossed — the last photo was actually taken at Satan’s Kingdom State Recreation Area, just downriver of where the East and West branches merge.

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