The University of Connecticut and the town of Mansfield need additional reliable long-term sources of water. That's a well-documented fact, and one borne out by years of review and planning.
But that's not because UConn isn't a good steward. On the contrary, the university uses less water today than it did last decade despite serving many more people and facilities. The ethos of conservation is woven into the fabric of UConn's everyday operations and mind-set.
Examples of that commitment abound, including UConn's new water reclamation facility. That facility, due to be fully operational this year, will allow the university to treat and reuse up to 1 million gallons of wastewater per day. That treated water will immediately help run UConn's power plant, greatly reducing the need to cool the system with drinking-quality water.
UConn's commitment to environmental stewardship extends into its curriculum; into initiatives that urge people to limit water use and report leaks; and into UConn's green building policy, which sets standards for energy and water efficiency in all major construction projects.
For those reasons and many others, the national Sierra Club named UConn among its top five U.S. schools this year in recognition of our commitment to sustainability and environmental initiatives.
It's against this backdrop of a proven commitment to conservation that UConn and Mansfield are undertaking a thorough, transparent and deliberative effort to draft an Environmental Impact Evaluation, known as the EIE, part of a process meant to identify a source or sources that could produce 2 million gallons of water per day to serve various projects in coming decades.
The need is also borne out by two recent studies linking withdrawals from our supply wells during drought conditions to reduced levels in adjacent rivers. During such unusually dry conditions, UConn now voluntarily reduces withdrawals substantially below the amounts authorized by the state. UConn's decision to curtail use of our wells during dry periods creates the need for additional supply to safely meet our current obligations and accommodate growth.
Redevelopment of Mansfield's business districts and UConn's Depot Campus, long-term development of the UConn Technology Park, and construction of a locally supported assisted living community in Mansfield all require reliable water sources over the next several decades.
After 18 months of study, including four public hearings so far, UConn and the town have considered several potential water supply sources, now focusing on three separate alternatives.
They are: a connection with Connecticut Water Co., whose pipeline would be extended from Tolland; a connection with Windham Water Works, which already serves southern Mansfield; or a connection with the Metropolitan District Commission, which would extend a pipeline from East Hartford to the region.
The EIE is governed by the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act, which requires UConn to solicit and respond to comments it receives throughout the process, then report to the UConn Board of Trustees.
If approved, UConn will forward the evaluation to the state Office of Policy and Management, which coordinates comprehensive reviews by several state agencies, including those governing public health and environmental protection. Ultimately, the university would need a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to implement the final alternative selected.
The MDC option has received particular attention in recent weeks, and in response UConn has extended its EIE comment deadline and set a Farmington Valley-area public hearing for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the UConn Health Center's Munson Building.
The MDC option is just that: an option, not a conclusion. The Connecticut Water Co. and Windham Water Works options also remain under consideration and, at this point, no single solution stands out as preferred. The EIE process is designed to ensure UConn performs environmental due diligence on all options, a task the university takes seriously.
UConn also takes another task very seriously: its obligation to participate in, and promote the growth of, economic development opportunities that result in good-paying jobs fueled by research, innovation and commercialization of UConn's intellectual capital.
Long-term development of the UConn Tech Park; the redevelopment of campus, municipal and regional assets where appropriate; and success in related initiatives will provide benefits that reach across Connecticut.
As part of that work, identifying a reliable long-term water supply is a critical step for UConn in fulfilling its responsibilities as Connecticut's flagship institution, which include contributing to the state's economic success.
Thomas Q. Callahan is associate vice president and Richard A. Miller is director of environmental policy at the University of Connecticut.Copyright © 2015, CT Now