We applaud reports that the University of Connecticut seems poised to do the right thing by ending the statewide water controversy and rejecting a proposal by Metropolitan District Commission to ship water from the Farmington River across the state to solve UConn's water needs.
It is important that the UConn board of trustees ratify this decision formally Wednesday when the trustees are scheduled to discuss and vote on options to provide more water to a proposed university technology park and to the town of Mansfield.
The MDC interconnection would have piped water from the Nepaug and Barkhamsted reservoirs in the Farmington River watershed, west of Hartford, to the Thames River watershed in the east. This type of watershed-to-watershed movement, known as an interbasin transfer, is discouraged by state planning tools.
Surplus water in the Nepaug and Barkhamsted reservoirs should be reserved to supply for the Farmington River watershed during low stream flows, especially given recent summer droughts. That the water is needed by the east branch of the Farmington is well-documented. The east branch of the Farmington and the Nepaug River, both downstream of the reservoirs' dams, each have segments listed by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as impaired for aquatic life and recreation.
The board has to think about impacts not only around Storrs, where the water will be consumed, but also the area around the water supply source. UConn is better off with a source that is closer to home.
Additionally, the MDC proposal would have withdrawn 5 million gallons of water per day — more than twice the 1.9 million gallons that the environmental impact evaluation estimates is needed to meet UConn's and Mansfield's future needs. This excess supply would only lead to sprawl and attract more development in the rural Mansfield area. Connecticut's Plan of Conservation and Development discourages such oversupply for that reason.
UConn can help meet state goals for encouraging growth in and around population centers and transportation nodes while preserving the pristine open spaces in rural communities. Rather than bringing new infrastructure to the site of proposed development, the university should build new development around existing infrastructure.
It was reported Monday that UConn is poised, subject to ratification by its board of trustees, to choose the proposal of the Connecticut Water Co., which would pipe the water just five, rather than 20, miles. While we express no opinion on the local merits of the Connecticut Water Co. proposal vs. the competing Windham Water Co. proposal, they are both different in magnitude than MDC's.
This reported decision is among other positive steps UConn has taken toward a sustainable water future at the Storrs campus with its reclaimed water facility, which treats wastewater using microfiltration and ultraviolet disinfection. Although this facility will help offset some of the university's non-potable water needs, the area around Storrs still needs an additional drinking water source.
For its part, the MDC has recently undertaken projects to update the sewage and stormwater systems in the Hartford area and installed its own ultraviolet disinfection and energy-efficient systems at its wastewater treatment plant. The proposal to supply UConn with water from the Nepaug and Barkhamsted reservoirs would not have been in line with the environmental leadership otherwise displayed by MDC and the university.
We believe there are still serious unanswered questions of water planning in Connecticut that must be addressed. In the meantime, however, we applaud UConn's reported decision to reject the MDC proposal and urge the board of trustees to ratify it.
Mary Glassman is first selectwoman for the town of Simsbury. Roger Reynolds is director of land protection programs for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.Copyright © 2015, CT Now