Approximately 100 people filled the Human Resources Training Room at the University of Connecticut Health Center’s Munson Building Tuesday night for a public hearing about the Metropolitan District Commission proposal to provide water to the university and the town of Mansfield.
Environmental activists and concerned residents joined state and local officials to share their views on a controversial proposal to construct a new 20-mile pipeline that could divert as much as 1.93 million gallons from the Farmington River basin each day.
Forty one individuals waited their turn to address university officials about the proposed project and among them were Town of Mansfield Mayor Elizabeth Paterson and Town Manager Matthew Hart.
MDC Proposal Background
In June 2011 the town of Mansfield and the University of Connecticut initiated an Environmental Impact Evaluation, prepared by Milone & MacBroom, to determine the best possible resolution to their increasingly diminished water supply.
The initial EIE included 6 proposed alternatives of which three scenarios were deemed feasible alternatives.
- Interconnection with Windham Water Works
- Interconnection with the Connecticut Water Company
- Interconnection with the Metropolitan District Commission
UConn officials scheduled Tuesday night's public hearing following public outcry against the MDC proposal. MDC officials held a separate meeting last week to clear up “misconceptions and misunderstandings” about the water company’s bid to provide water to the town of Mansfield and University of Connecticut at Storrs.
Of the two proposed MDC pipeline scenarios, the company's preferred scenario would be a 20-mile pipeline that would cost approximately $38.33 million and would add the potential for a new customer base in the towns of Tolland, Vernon, Mansfield, South Windsor, and Coventry. MDC officials have since claimed that the company does not intend to expand into any new customers beyond UConn and Mansfield. A second proposed pipeline could cost as much as $51 million, according to the proposal.
The proposed pipeline would divert water from the Nepaug and Barkhamsted reservoirs.
When news of the proposal spread to the Farmington Valley, Simsbury officials responded swiftly and sent a letter critical of UConn's process. Simsbury officials also requested a 30-day extension to the public comment period.
Letters from other communities along the banks of the Farmington River, residents, and local environmental organizations quickly followed.
MDC officials told residents during last week's informational meeting that the company only had plans to supply water to UConn, not the other towns listed in the preferred scenario. MDC legal staff member Chris Stone said the proposed pipeline would not have the hydraulic pressure to support additional customers.
The Need for Water
Both the town of Mansfield and UConn have identified a need to find additional sources of potable water in order to support a growing population and infrastructure.
UConn will need additional water supply in order to fulfill its North Campus Master Plan, which includes the development of the UConn Technology Park, according to David Murphy, Senior Assoc. with Milone & MacBroom, Inc.
Hart said the Town of Mansfield needs water for a new commercial development in the Four Corners section of the town and for a planned independent/assisted living facility.
Currently, UConn and Mansfield need approximately 2.32 million gallons of water per day. That water is supplied by the Fenton River and Willimantic River wellfields, according to Murphy.
In warmer months, the margin of safety for the water supply is significantly lower than it is in colder months, Murphy said. On average, the margin of safety is approximately 1.96 mgd in January as opposed to Sept. and Oct. when the margin drops to less than 1 mgd.
"There's an important gap there," Murphy said.
Murphy explained that the margin of safety during those months needs to be above 1.5 mgd.
Opposition to the Proposal
The first to address UConn officials at Tuesday night's public hearing was state Rep. John Hampton (D-16th District) followed by town leaders from Simsbury, Canton, Farmington, New Hartford, Burlington, and Colebrook, each with their own statements of opposition to the MDC proposal.
"We would like a plan that is supported by proper planning, proper scientific and economic analysis, and one that doesn't violate state environmental policy," Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman said.
Canton First Selectman Richard Barlow told UConn officials he was displeased that among the university's needs for water is a planned intramural flag football field.
"The use of water for such recreational activities, potentially at the expense of the Farmington River in the future, which is designated as Wild and Scenic and we know is a tremendous recreational resource, is I think in stark contrast to reality," Barlow said.
Barlow also expressed concern that the MDC proposal will open the door to the possibility of accessing the West Branch of the Farmington River as a future water source.
Barkhamsted officials worry that any further drain on the Farmington River Basin supply would negatively impact the town's recreation areas including the town beach.
Hart addressed the fact that the MDC proposal has not been selected as the best option at this point.
"Windham [Water Works] and the Connecticut Water [Company] options are indeed viable," Hart said.
State Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8th District) drew a round of applause when he criticized the university for not involving the Farmington River communities when developing the EIE. Despite the fact that UConn and Mansfield have been working on a solution to their water supply issues for several years, many in the Farmington River communities were only recently made aware of the MDC proposal.
"As an elected official, this is both frustrating to me and quite frankly shows a lack of respect to the residents in those communities I represent," Witkos said.
Simsbury resident David Blume voiced his disapproval of the plan because it was based on outdated information.
"The EIE uses a study of flow data on the Farmington River from 1970—1990," Blume said. "That is 22 years ago."
In recent years, the Farmington River has had significantly lower water levels than it has in the past.
"Look at what happened in 2012. The West Branch of the Farmington River was nearly dry," Blume said.
Coite said his office has received a large number of public comments regarding the MDC proposal recently and that the university plans to review and respond to those comments following the Jan. 31 deadline. A new appendix that will include the comments and responses will be added to the EIE when it is complete, Coite said.
The current version of the EIE can be found here: http://www.envpolicy.uconn.edu/eie.html
For those who were unable to attend the public hearing, written comments will be accepted until Jan. 31.
Written comments should be sent to: Jason M. Coite University of Connecticut – Office of Environmental Policy 31 LeDoyt Road, U-3055 Storrs, Connecticut 06269