Officials Seek Compromise on Water Supply
By STEPHEN SINGER, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut officials are trying again to find a compromise in regulating water flow that satisfies both environmentalists and businesses that rely on it.
The Department of Environmental Protection submitted new regulations to the legislature Tuesday, more than a month after a key committee rejected earlier proposals intended to make sure enough water is captured behind dams and for fish downstream.
The draft regulations would set standards for classifying waterways according to depth, volume and velocity of stream flow needed to support and maintain habitats and aquatic life. The classifications would be used to determine the level of development allowed in watersheds and the extent of human activity. Dam operators would be required to release water to maintain river or stream water levels according to the regulations.
A possible hurdle for passage of any new rules is the question of whether the state can regulate groundwater.
State environmental officials said Tuesday it was the intent of state legislation in 2005 to regulate groundwater diversions. However, the department is seeking “guidance and clarification” from the General Assembly on this point.
Some businesses, such as farms, believe the law does not permit regulation of groundwater and see attempts to regulate as overreaching. Initial legislation sought regulations of stream flows following low levels at some rivers.
Steven K. Reviczky, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, said farmers worry that the department may order farms to stop drawing water during summers when rivers and streams are low. That’s when farmers “are concerned about keeping animals and plants alive,” he said.
Farmers generally want an exemption for agriculture in water flow regulations.
Republican Rep. T.R. Rowe, co-chairman of the Regulations Review Committee, said lawmakers were concerned that the recently proposed rules tried to regulate groundwater and aquifers. Legislation did not “clearly contemplate” regulation of groundwater, he said. Legislators also were concerned about ambiguity in the regulations, he said.
Elizabeth Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Water Works Association, a group of public water supply utilities, said members of the group believe the rules should be narrower in scope and exempt agriculture.
But David Sutherland, a lobbyist for the environmental group Nature Conservancy, said state law authorizes the department to regulate the effects of withdrawing water from wells near rivers and streams.
“The language in the statute seems pretty clear,” he said.
The department has warned that climate change could result in more intense storms and longer dry spells in summer that will challenge where and when water is available.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)