Water may become the oil of the mid-21st century. Half the world is worried about, if not fighting over, water. In this country, a record 55 percent of the land area in the Lower 48 states suffered drought conditions last year.
Wouldn't it make sense for Connecticut to get a handle on its water supply?
That there is no statewide water management plan came to light over the winter when the University of Connecticut outlined three proposals to get more water for planned expansion in and around the Storrs campus. One possibility being considered would be to tap into the Metropolitan District Commission system in East Hartford and pump it nearly 20 miles to the campus.
This idea incurred strong criticism from residents of the Farmington Valley, whence the water emanates. They feared the extension of the MDC system would have a negative impact on the Farmington River. MDC officials said it wouldn't, but the issue was never resolved.
That's the problem. There's no plan.
State Rep. John K. Hampton, a freshman Democrat from Simsbury, submitted a bill that would have imposed a statewide moratorium on diversions of water such as the one to UConn until there is a statewide water-use plan. But critics charged the bill was too broad — it would halt diversions that weren't problematic — and it wasn't brought out of committee.
He is working with some of the state's major environmental groups to revive the bill or find another way to initiate serious water planning. We wish him well; he's got the right idea. Before water starts getting shipped halfway across the state, it would he helpful — one might say essential — to know how much the state has got, where it is, what the demand is, how clean it is and a myriad of other questions about the elixir of life.
What The State Has Done So Far
This isn't a new question; the state has been trying to come up with water plans for years. In 1985, the state created a long-term drinking water supply planning process that involved dividing the state into seven regional Water Utility Coordinating Committees. Each was supposed to prepare a plan. To date, four regions have prepared plans and only one of the plans has actually been approved.
In 2001, the state created a Water Planning Council to, among other things, produce a statewide long-range plan for managing water resources. No such plan has been created.
Several other states have done statewide water plans, and Connecticut should as well. Water is essential to life, and also to the state's economy. Without putting too fine a point on it, available water might become a strong selling point here if there's no water in other places. Ample clean water is vital to the expansion of agriculture, business, tourism and nice places to live.
But it all depends on managing this priceless resource properly. Comprehensive statewide water planning could look at repairing leaky infrastructure, hydroelectric power, wastewater treatment, preventing further groundwater contamination through brownfield clean-up and other means, water recreation and wildlife management, as well as UConn's needs.
At present, three state agencies — the departments of Energy and Environmental Protection, Public Health and the Office of Policy and Management — administer the state's water resource laws. Although they do their jobs well — the state has the highest drinking water standards in the country — it might be helpful to designate someone, perhaps one of the commissioners, as the water czar, to bring a statewide plan together.
We haven't done it up until now because there hasn't been a sense of urgency. We turn on the faucet and water comes out; what's the problem? But look around the country, and much of the world. The era of climate change and pressure for development demand we pay more attention.