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Rivers Alliance
Connecticut's United Voice for River Conservation

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Margaret for Litchfield County Times

RA Executive Director Margaret Miner Featured in Litchfield County Times!

It's a wonderful article with a plug for Rivers Alliance and CT League of Conservation Voters (CTLCV). Margaret presented at CTLCV's public forum in March.


CEQ Issues Report on Vulnerability of State-Owned Conservation Lands to Takeovers and Change of Use


Untreated Sewage Spills into the Naugatuck River

State Starts Review of Water Quality Standards for the Clean Water Act

Governor’s Executive Order 37 Calls for Review of Regulations and a New Process

Hydropower: Policy Position of Rivers Alliance

Rainfall Data Catches Up to Weather

UConn Rejects MDC proposal;  Selects CT Water Co.;  Future Water Needs Unclear

Combined Sewer Overflows

Model Resolutions, Ordinances, and Regulations

Rivers Alliance Testifies (Feb. 2013) on State Plan of Conservation and Development


Rivers Alliance's Comments (Oct. 2012) on State Plan of Conservation and Development


News & Articles

STREAMLINES The newsletter of Rivers Alliance of CT Archives







On March 31, 2014, the distinguished United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report warning that climate change is affecting all parts of the world. All nations need to take immediate steps to prepare for adverse events, including floods, droughts, hunger, illness, infrastructure breakdowns, and political disruptions.

Climate Change 2014, Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. The SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS

The report stressed threats to clean water as a leading global problem. The response of world powers has done little to avert this obvious and impending threat. Secretary of State State John Kerry said the report made clear that "the costs of inaction are catastrophic." Earlier in March, more than two dozen US senators, including Connecticut senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, staged a rare all-night Senate session to draw attention to the climate crisis. Maybe it’s time for an all-nighter across the nation to demand action. We are sleeping our way into misery for ourselves and our children.

 The most likely and worse effects for North America are more wildfires, deaths from heat stroke, floods. How much worse they get depends on how soon we stop the increase of greenhouse gases from burning of fossil fuels. How bad the effects of these will be depends on how well prepared we are. The rest of the world can expect much worse than North America.

Here is a graphic from the Report, explanations follow

Click for full size graphic

WILDFIRE Bar graphs for Risk and potential for adaptation: Even IF we stop greenhouse gas emissions soon enough to keep global warming to 2°C, and aggressively work to adapt our human and natural systems to prevent and prepare for fires, the long term risk at best will be lowered to the risk we now have without any adaptations for increased fires.

So why bother? If we do not, the fires will be something this planet has not seen in human history.

 HEAT MORTALITY Bar graphs for Risk and potential for adaptation: IF we stop greenhouse gas emissions soon enough to keep global warming to 2°C, and aggressively work to improve the way we prepare for and respond to heat waves, the long term risk can be kept as low as it could be now if we immediately  and aggressively prepare for them.

 FLOODING Bar graphs for Risk and potential for adaptation: IF we stop greenhouse gas emissions soon enough to keep global warming to 2°C, and aggressively work to improve the way we prepare for and respond to coastal flooding, the long term risk at best will be lowered to the risk we now have without any adaptations for increased frequency, intensity and duration of flood events.

Why bother? Ask Noah.

 The explanations above of just one of the charts in the Report interprets their bar graphs to provide a "best case scenario" for each of the most likely worst three effects of climate change here.

CEQ Issues Report on Vulnerability of State-Owned Conservation Lands to Takeovers and Change of Use

From time to time the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issues special reports on environmental issues of wide concern. The most recent CEQ report, issued in January 2014, is entitled Preserved But Maybe Not: The Impermanence of State Conservation Lands.

As many of you know, Rivers Alliance is a lead member of the State Lands Working Group, which aims to secure protections for state-owned conservation lands against takeovers for private development, police shooting ranges, golf courses, and the like. Other members of the group include the Connecticut Land Conservation Council, Connecticut Forest & Park Association, Connecticut Audubon, and Sierra Club Connecticut Chapter. This group interacts regularly with CEQ on a wide range of conservation issues.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

The General Assembly and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection have been asked to consider proposals during the past three years to transfer, exchange or re-purpose hundreds of acres of state parks, forests and wildlife management areas. Most of those proposals were not completed, but analysis of the cases reveals procedural deficiencies that routinely put state conservation lands in jeopardy of being 'unpreserved'.

To read the full report, follow this link: http://www.ct.gov/ceq/lib/ceq/Preserved_But_Maybe_Not.pdf

Here is a link to the news release accompanying the report: http://www.ct.gov/ceq/cwp/view.asp?a=986&Q=537658

If you would like more information about this cause or would like to help, contact us at rivers@riversalliance.org or 860-361-9349.


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Untreated Sewage Spills into the Naugatuck River

On Christmas Day, 2013, at about 1 p.m.,  a manhole collapse in Seymour disrupted the  wastewater system, breaking a sewer line, and sending about 150,000 gallons of untreated sewage into the Naugatuck River over a period of  more than 24 hours. By Friday afternoon, the spill was contained, with only seepage remaining. 

The system collects wastewater on the east side of the river and pumps or siphons it under the water to the treatment plant on the west side. 

The Seymour wastewater utility is managed by Veolia Water North America and is overseen by the Seymour Water Pollution Control Authority. The system has suffered a number of smaller problems recently. 

The Naugatuck River is in the midst of a revival, with water quality improving, wildlife returning, and people out boating.   

Rivers Alliance of Connecticut Executive Director Margaret Miner said, “Raw sewage is obviously harmful to water quality and aquatic life. It contains pathogens (primarily bacteria and viruses) that are a threat to health, including human health. The organic material is nutrient-rich (if you are a plant). Excess nutrients cause algae blooms, oxygen depeletion, and dead zones. These days we are also worried about toxins (such as pesticides), pharmaceuticals, metals, and other substances in wastewater that appear cumulatively to be causing long-term problems, such as anomalies of the reproductive systems of fish, amphibians, and possibly humans. Such substances are not generally removed even by treatment. Luckily, the weather is cold and river flows are fairly good, which will mitigate the effects of the spill. But it’s a shame. We need to invest more in the functions and upkeep of the state’s treatment plants.”


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State Starts Review of Water Quality Standards for the Clean Water Act

Here are Recommendations from Rivers Alliance. Comments by Others Available on Request

To: Robert Hust, CT DEEP
FROM: Rivers Alliance of Connecticut
RE: Triennial Review of State Water Quality Standards
Date: December 16, 2013

Rivers Alliance of Connecticut is the statewide, non-profit coalition of river organizations, individuals, and businesses formed to protect and enhance Connecticut's waters by promoting sound water policies, uniting and strengthening the state's many river groups, and educating the public about the importance of water stewardship. Our 450 members include almost all of the state’s river and watershed conservation groups, representing many thousand Connecticut residents

We welcome the chance to interact with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) on the subject of Water Quality Standards pursuant to the Clean Water Act.   In the last effort to review and adjust these standards (2009-2010), DEEP (or, at that time, DEP) used sound scientific criteria, including the most up-to-date standards, those developed for the Great Lakes regional compact.

Here is a brief description of the Great Lakes Initiative as described on the website of the US Environmental Agency (EPA). 

Great Lakes Initiative
In 1995, EPA and the Great Lakes states agreed to a comprehensive plan to restore the health of the Great Lakes. The Final Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System, also known as the Great Lakes Initiative, includes criteria for states to use when setting water quality standards for 29 pollutants, including bioaccumulative chemicals of concern, and prohibits the use of mixing zones for these toxic chemicals.
Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System To Prohibit Mixing Zones for Bioaccumulative Chemicals of Concern
EPA is amending the Final Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System (40 CFR Part 132) to prohibit mixing zones for bioaccumulative chemicals of concern (BCCs) in the Great Lakes System, subject to a limited exception for existing discharges.
Identification of Approved and Disapproved Elements of the Great Lakes Guidance Submissions From the States of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and Final Rule
EPA is taking final action on the Guidance submissions of the States of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. EPA's final action consists of approving those elements of the States' submissions that are consistent with the Great Lakes Guidance, disapproving those elements that are not consistent with the Guidance, and specifying in a final rule the elements of the Guidance that apply in the portion of each State within the Great Lakes basin where a state either failed to adopt required elements or adopted elements that are inconsistent with the Guidance. EPA is separately taking final action on the Guidance submissions of the States of Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Here is DEEP’s summary of its sources for standards in its Technical Supporting Information for Proposed Revisions to the Connecticut Water Quality Standards: Ambient Water Quality Criteria
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse
Planning & Standards Division
January 28 2010

Substances for which chronic aquatic water quality criteria are not available from published EPA sources, water quality benchmarks for aquatic life were obtained using the Tier 2 procedures established in the Water Quality Guidance for the Great Lakes System (USEPA 1995). Tier 2 criteria were either derived using the USEPA 1995 protocols or were obtained from other states that had used those protocols (EPA 2008). The criteria derived by CTDEP utilized aquatic toxicity information available from the USEPA EcoTox Database (EPA 2007) and or Toxicological Benchmarks for Screening Potential Contaminants of Concern for Effects on Aquatic Biota: 1996 Revision (Suter and Tsao 1996) and are presented in Appendix B to this document.

We believe that DEEP’s approach at that time was right for Connecticut, for the health of its residents, and for the survival of its wildlife.We see no environmental or economic advantage in being able to boast that our waters are more toxic than those of other states.  We urge you to use the highest standards accepted by the EPA and elsewhere in the nation. We are not second-class citizens.

As you know from our comments on your earlier draft, we believe that the standards (now regulations) have some profound ambiguities in their definitions that undermine the apparent intent. Here are my previous remarks. The points are still relevant.

The standards say:

Water Quality Criteria do not apply to certain conditions brought about by natural causes. Natural hydrologic and geologic conditions may cause excursions from established criteria. The meaning of the word ‘natural’ is not limited to only those conditions which would exist in water draining from pristine land. Conditions which exist in the surface water, in part due to normal uses of the land, may be considered natural, provided best management practices are used.  [emphasis added] It shall not be considered normal use of the land if excursions from established Criteria adversely impact an existing or designated use.

This is a key passage.  Notice, that the meaning of "natural"  (used with respect to flow or nutrient loading, or whatever) is significantly different from dictionary definitions of "natural."  Basically the definition in the standards includes non-natural, man-made conditions if best management practices (BMPs) are in place.  This would be objective (although fuzzy) and defensible if BMPs were defined as, say, "Highest-quality water-protection practices currently available."   Given a stream flowing past a paved mall, one could come up with some kind of estimate of water conditions with and without best available stormwater management techniques."  BUT  here is the definition of BMPs.   

Best Management Practices means those practices which reduce pollution and which have been determined by the Commissioner to be acceptable based on, but not limited to, technical, economic and institutional feasibility.

So, if the goal is to restore, say, a stream to its natural condition, this means to restore the stream to the condition the stream would enjoy if not-too-expensive, institutionally feasible (whatever that means) management practices were in place.  This makes a science definition dependent on political judgments.  

Comment:  Rewrite these passages to avoid making the definition of "natural" dependent on economic and institutional considerations.  Once an environmental goal is set, then the feasibility of attaining that goal can be considered separately. 

In connection with the reference to BMPs, we will repeat the comment that we submitted (unsuccessfully) on the revision of the state list of impaired waters.

COMMENT:  The natural flow of a river means the flow with BMPs in place.  Some rivers are interrupted by hydro dams.  A BMP for a hydro dam is run-of-the-river flow management.  Pond-and-release, or peaking, management is not a BMP for hydropower.  Therefore, river segments above and below a pond-and-release hydro dam should be listed as impaired.  The segment above will be unnaturally large and warm.  The segment below will suffer from off-on flows. 

I understand that DEEP is postponing setting criteria for phosphorus until a current review of science and policy is finished. I hope that the review will take up the matter as soon as possible.

On the issue of nitrogen pollution, environmental protection has been harmed by a confusion of drinking-water standards with environmental standards. We know that the standards for drinking water are not necessarily supportive of aquatic life. For example, some species need salt water. But we accept as a given that the drinking water standard for nitrogen is environmentally appropriate, even though the cumulative effect of nitrogen loading in bodies of water can obviously be destructive.

We urge DEEP to re-examine standards with respect to cumulative and synergistic effects. You have done so in some instances. For example, on page 20:

… insure that the cumulative effect of adjacent zones of influence will not significantly reduce the environmental value or preclude any existing or designated uses of the receiving surface water.

On page 43, an applicant seeking to lower water quality must provide:

...a description of the current level of water quality and the impact that the proposed action will have on water quality, including synergistic and cumulative effects;

However, to the best of my knowledge, cumulative and synergistic effects are still largely an overlooked, or lightly regulated, area of water-quality protection.

Rivers Alliance supports all of the recommendations submitted in this comment period by Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC); Farmington River Watershed Association; Housatonic Valley Association; The Nature Conservancy; and the Pomperaug River Watershed Coalition. I’ll highlight several issues of special concern.

Thermal pollution needs to be addressed now. To the best of my knowledge, there is a wealth of scientific data on temperature and aquatic life. As the climate warms, we will need to be extra vigilant to maintain cold-water streams.

Thank you for calling out wetlands as an important resource. Identification and protection of headwaters is especially important to protecting water all the way into the Sound.

Disinfection of sewage should be year-round. Various pathogens can survive cold weather, and people are in and on the water at all times of the year. Katharine Hepburn swam in all seasons. Connecticut greatly benefits from its celebrities. Let’s keep unsterilized sewage out of their way.

Chlorine should be phased out as a disinfectant as soon as possible. It is toxic.

We support CRWC’s strong call for a correlation between the tiered biological standards and the antidegradation principles. The condition of the biota in our waters is an indicator of the health of the environment for humans. It is to our benefit to maintain and enhance the quality of aquatic habitats. Fewer and fewer people believe that we can really thrive by degrading our environment (granted the remaining believers are a majority in some circles).

It is well past time to designate our eligible high-quality waters as Outstanding National Resource Waters. Such designation will serve as an extra layer of protection for waters that really no one should be interested in degrading.

We know that DEEP’s goal is to protect the state’s extraordinarily valuable water resources. We believe that future economic success and community health will depend significantly on whether we have the wisdom and will to do so. We appreciate your efforts, and will help in any way we can.

Margaret Miner
Executive Director

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Governor’s Executive Order 37 Calls for Review of Regulations and a New Process

Rivers Alliance submitted the following comments with sign-ons

Dear Governor Malloy:

Thank you for ordering agencies to identify out-of-date regulations for the purpose of repealing or modifying them. This should be a regular practice with statutes and regulations.

We hope that the order to identify regulations that have become “unnecessarily burdensome” refers to regulations that are burdensome because they are no longer needed for any good purpose. I fear it will be interpreted to refer to any regulation an entity doesn’t like or doesn’t want to pay for. It is not clear whether the order to identify regulations that are “insufficient or ineffective” is for the purpose of getting rid of those regulations or improving them. For example, I would argue some of our pesticide regulations are insufficiently protective and some of our sewage treatment regulations are ineffective due to weak enforcement capability. Rivers Alliance would want to see these regulations upgraded not canceled. Generally, the most acute problems with our regulatory system arise from a lack of resources and support. In these circumstances, agencies do waver, wobble, and postpone labor-intensive reviews.

In the sections on a new process and implementation, we are very concerned that the order as written contains so many ambiguous terms that their exact meaning could be debated at great length, thereby slowing, not speeding, the regulatory process. For example, needs are to be addressed in a manner “proportionate to their significance.” The significance of a need is highly subjective; for many residents invasive bamboo is very significantly evil; for others, any regulation that costs money is equally evil.

Agencies will be required to do their best to be sure that “the benefits of regulations justify their costs.” By and large, cost-benefit analyses are flawed and nearly impossible to verify. However, at least it should be clear that “costs” refers to everyone’s costs, not just immediate costs to the regulated entities. For example, it is costly to comply with the regulations for disposing of household septic sludge. But the costs to individuals and communities for clean-up of illicit discharges, medical treatment, pathogen disinfection, depressed property values, etc., typically far outweigh the cost of safe disposal. It would be fairer to talk about a cost-cost analysis. But, fundamentally, it is a mistake to presume that fresh air, clean water, forests, and sunshine need to be justified in economic terms. These are the resources that support life and the quality of life that is our state’s greatest asset.

The order and the process described is supposed to develop with considerable public involvement. That is a good goal. But, given how few people are aware of this order, there is a likelihood that the involvement with be mostly by the usual small circle of insiders.

In the section on process, steps 6 and 7 seem redundant and contain so many undefined terms as to likely lead to prolonged arguments and revisions, when what the state needs is crisp, efficient action.

In the section on implementation, section 13 is indeed unlucky. It sets out some extra hoops for regulations “of significant impact.” That seems fair. But then the definition is imbalanced and accusatory. For example, it shall mean any regulation that may have an adverse impact on small business. That’s pretty broad. Once again, we believe it is a mistake to assume that the impact of a regulation will be a burden. Think of the many businesses and communities that are struggling with groundwater contamination. Who benefits from that? In those places, the lack of regulation and enforcement is a burden on both businesses and residents.

Again, we support regulatory rationality and efficiency. We believe the review will be helpful. But the order sends an unfortunate mixed message.

With best wishes for the holidays and not too much snow.

Margaret Miner, Exec. Dir., Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, and co-signers:
Eileen Fielding, Exec. Dir., Farmington River Watershed Association
Elaine McKinney, Oxford
Rep. Mary Mushinisky, Wallingford
Kevin Zak, Pres., Naugatuck River Revival Group
Mark Picton, Picton Brothers LLC, Washington Depot
Martha Phillips, Litchfield CT.

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 Hydropower: Policy Position of Rivers Alliance

By Margaret Miner

We get many questions about our position on proposals to develop or import more hydropower. This is especially true in a year like 2013, when the governor, DEEP, and legislators were putting forward energy bills that included major roles for hydropower. 

Our basic position is that we support “good,” that is, low-impact hydropower. The typical characteristics of good hydropower are that it is run-of-river (water is not impounded and then released only when convenient); that it does not require a new dam; and that it provides passage for fish and eels. The ultimate goal is that a new or enhanced hydropower project should provide overall improvement in the health of the river.

These characteristics are to a considerable extent embodied in Connecticut’s definition of Class I hydropower. In Connecticut, all electric utilities are required to have in their energy portfolios a certain percent of Class I energy sources, such as solar and wind. The goal has been 20 percent by 2020. In other words, by 2020, 20 percent of a utility’s portfolio should be Class I energy.

Connecticut’s definition of Class I hydro includes the good characteristics mentioned above. In particular, this year, with the help of Paul Mounds in the governor’s office, Jessie Stratton at DEEP, and Andrew Fisk at the Connecticut River Watershed Council, we achieved a marked improvement in the definition of Class I with respect to fish passage. But unfortunately, in a holdover from the original definition a decade ago, Class I hydropower is supposed to be small and new. Small is under 5 megawatts (mw) and new is post-July 2003. This makes little ecological sense. All things being equal, it is better to have one well-designed hydro plant producing 20 mw, than four dams producing perhaps only 4 mw—or even less. 

The nature of a river is continuity—in biochemistry, physical flow, aquatic life, the birds, amphibians, and mammals that depend on the river for survival. Each natural change flows into another.

Rivers are the arteries of the world. Dams are high-risk tourniquets. Even a small dam can cut off that continuous life and degrade water quality (especially by warming the water and promoting harmful algae blooms and dead zones).

One of the surest ways to compensate for hydropower development by improving overall river health is to trade off removal of one or two existing dams for the hydropower on a third. This is feasible in many locations. There are 5,000 dams on Connecticut waterways. It is difficult to make an argument for building more. Nevertheless, a number of corporations, municipalities, and ordinary people who own riverside property, yearn for their very own new dams and hydropower facilities, and have proposals pending.  

The Rivers Alliance view is that all hydropower in our state should eventually meet Class I standards, and certainly any new hydro should do so. 

For this reason, we strongly opposed legislation this year that allows in some circumstances the sale of destructive Class II hydropower as if it were Class I in order to help utilities fill their Class I requirements. We have not opposed the incredibly massive hydropower facilities in Canada (although we think Canada will eventually regret them). We do not oppose increased importation of Class II hydropower from Canada. But we are extremely concerned about representing massively destructive hydropower as environmentally benign Class I energy.

Why do we care about lawmakers approving an apparently small stretching of the rules on behalf of Hydro Quebec? It is because we are certain that lawmakers and other officials will not be able to resist pleas and pressure to stretch those rules for Connecticut interests on Connecticut rivers. Why should only Canada be allowed to sell Class II hydro in the Class I market? Why shouldn’t Connecticut companies be allowed to do so? It’s hard to say why not. Therefore, we believe that to protect Connecticut rivers, we need to maintain high standards for what counts as Class I hydropower that can be used to fill the Class I portfolio requirements. 

The bottom line is: We support low-impact hydropower. We oppose any additional destructive hydropower on Connecticut rivers. 

Also, we’d be happy to answer questions and receive comments on the issue. 

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Rainfall Data Catches Up to Weather

By Martha Smith, Analyst, Southwest Conservation District

OK, a rainfall pop quiz for you.

A 100-year-rain storm
a.) occurs once every 100 years, or
b.) has a 1% (1/100) statistical chance of occurring in any year.  

A 25-year-rain storm
a.) occurs once every 25 years, or
b.) has a 4% (1/25) statistical chance of occurring in any year.

If you chose “b” twice, congratulations. You understand commonly misunderstood terms — terms used with increasing frequency given recent storm events.

Our climate is constantly changing, and yet in the Northeast the “design storm,” or the expected amount of rain in a storm used to design infrastructure, has mainly been based on the venerable Weather Bureau publication Technical Paper 40, or TP40 for short. This standard 50-year-old reference was based on rain storms measured before 1960.

Design storm data is a critical component of many civil engineering design projects. For instance, if someone is designing and building a storm drain, they use design storm data to make sure the storm drain and associated piping will not overflow or back up for the anticipated amount of rain. 

A design storm is the likelihood of a specific amount of rain falling in a designated time period. Design storms range from rainfall durations of 5 minutes up to 10 days, and also range from high probability of occurrence (1-year storm) to lower probability (500-year storm).  

Most people are aware that rainfall patterns have changed in the Northeast, and scientific studies have validated this impression. In response, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) teamed up with the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) and Cornell University to update the rainfall data set. For explanation on statistics and the data used to calculate design storms, you can check the “Extreme Precipitation in New York and New England” website at http://precip.eas.cornell.edu/.

The new data set includes extreme precipitation through 2008, and, no big surprise: there are some changes for the Northeast. In Connecticut, the rainfall in normal smaller storms (1- to 10- year design storms) has not changed significantly. But the less frequent larger storms are much wetter. As an example, previously in Fairfield County, 7.2 inches rainfall was the 100-year, 24-hour design storm; now it’s 9.1 inches. Similarly, New Haven County’s 100-year, 24-hour storm increased from 7.1 inches to 8.3 inches rainfall.

On a practical level, what does this mean? It means engineering design standards will have to change if we are to reduce the risk of storm damage to bridges, roads, buildings, and other infrastructure. Hydrological expertise will be needed to determine exactly how engineering design standards need to change.

Unfortunately, the state and localities are moving slowly, if at all, to upgrade their design standards. Greenwich stands out as a municipality that has done so. The state Department of Transportation is doing a pilot study of infrastructure vulnerability in the Northwest Corner under conditions of climate change and extreme storms. But there is no coordinated, comprehensive effort to adopt uniform, realistic standards statewide. 

Meanwhile, storm impacts to existing infrastructure are likely to continue to be a greater problem than in the past. Connecticut now has larger areas of impervious surfaces than in 1960. This means more stormwater flowing into streams; and, where combined sewers exist, this water will flow into and sometimes flood wastewater treatment systems. In addition, replacement of aging infrastructure has been lagging. It’s a little like expecting an aged worker to perform physical labor harder than they ever did in their youthful physical peak. Thanks to the work of NRCS, NRCC and Cornell, engineers, as well as state and local officials, now have access to a rainfall data set that reflects current conditions. It is important to use this data as the basis for planning and permitting related to storm water.  

I close with one last question for today’s rainfall pop quiz.  

Rainfall data shows increasing intensity of storms in Connecticut, so we should
a.) build infrastructure designed for present rain storms
b.) assess existing critical infrastructure, such as bridges, for adequacy to withstand extreme storms
c.)  maintain our stream gauge network
d.) all of the above  

If you chose “d,” congratulations.  

 UConn Rejects MDC Proposal;  Selects CT Water Co.;  Future Water Needs Unclear

The proposed diversion of 2 million gallons of water per day from the Farmington River watershed to the UConn campus in Storrs appears to have been finally nixed. UConn has selected the Connecticut Water Company, which currently manages the UConn water system, to supply the needed (or at least much wanted) water.

The Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the very large Hartford-region utility, had fought hard to win this contract. MDC was prepared to build a 20-mile, $51-million pipeline from East Hartford to Storrs (a part of Mansfield). The source water would have come from MDC’s reservoirs in the east branch of the Farmington River. Two streams below these reservoirs are famously dry. Moreover, the diversion would have indirectly put the beautiful west branch of the river at increased risk of impairment.

The MDC diversion was prominently and energetically opposed by Farmington valley towns, fishing groups, river groups, local legislators, environmental groups, and by many of you! Congratulations!

But do not yet relax with your laurels. The MDC-UConn controversy illuminated basic problems with the way water is allocated and managed in the state. There is no firm structure for decision making, no involvement of environmental groups, no integrated management. Tough decisions are improvised in response to the needs of the moment. The result is wasted time, energy, money, and water. The problem is not just in the UConn region but across the state.  Only last month, angry voters in Bethel rejected a complex, flawed plan to sell its water utility to Aquarion, a large private water company.   

In 2013, you will be hearing a number of proposals from different sectors to reform and rationalize water planning. You may already be involved with some of these ideas. Excellent. Please come forward. Every voice will be needed.

Archived comments on the proposal can be found here.

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Combined Sewer Overflows

CT passed a groundbreaking piece of policy during the 2012 legislative session that would henceforth require the state Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection to report Combined Sewer Overflows in the state.

Phase 1 is up on the web at http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2719&q=525758&deepNav_GID=1654. (If this link crashes your browser, try switching to "Compatibility View.")

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, between 1.8 and 3.5 million Americans become ill from contact with water contaminated by sewage every year. Raw or partially treated sewage can contain pathogens, viruses, and bacteria and can lead to short-term gastrointestinal problems and infections, and long-term chronic conditions such as liver and kidney failure. Contaminants from sewage also contribute to red- and brown-tide algal blooms, which can result in unhealthy fish populations and can cost local economies millions of dollars annually.

Phase 1 of Sewage Right to Know highlights areas in the state that are anticipated to experience overflow problems during heavy precipitation events.

The next step (to be implemented on or before July 2014) is to detail unanticipated overflow events as they happen, to give the public real-time protection from exposure to raw sewage. Connecticut is the first state to develop a program like this, and so far, it’s shaping up rather nicely! Thanks to all the advocates who helped to make this possible!

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Model Resolutions, Ordinances, and Regulations

Rivers Alliance surveyed approximately 50 towns and environmental groups on regulations in place in their communities to manage nonpoint source pollution, as welll as regulations they would like to have in the future. Following analysis of the survey results, Rivers Alliance compiled these materials for municipalities and environmental organizations in Connecticut. This project was made possible by funding from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant under the Clean Water Act, Section 319, Nonpoint Source Grant.

The webpage that resulted from this work is at http://www.riversalliance.org/ModelOrdinances/modelordinances.cfm.

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Rivers Alliance Testifies on State Plan of Conservation and Development

Below is Rivers Alliance testimony, submitted Feb. 23, 2013.

The committee was vague about how much longer it would take testimony, so the sooner the better. You can email the document to the committee clerk: peter.murszewski@cga.ct.gov.

In theory the plan could move quickly from a committee vote to the floor of the House. More likely, however, the process will be drawn out. So if you want to weigh in later, your voice could be important. Rivers Alliance addressed mostly the process and the need to take more time to get it right. However, many people on both sides of the issues want first to see corrections to the map and then changes in the text as per their particular interests.

Date: February 23, 2013
To the Chairmen, Sen. Steve Cassano and Rep. Jason Rojas, and Members of the Committee:

Rivers Alliance of Connecticut is the statewide, non-profit coalition of river organizations, individuals, and businesses formed to protect and enhance Connecticut's waters by promoting sound water policies, uniting and strengthening the state's many river groups, and educating the public about the importance of water stewardship. Our 450 members include almost all of the state’s river and watershed conservation groups, representing many thousand Connecticut residents

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the state plan. I hope that the comment period can be held open for a time, as the notice was not in the usual place in the Bulletin, and I was late communicating with members.

A New Approach

This plan was created with a new approach to both the text and the map.

The Text

Cross-Acceptance Method: OPM was directed in PA 10-138 to revise the Plan through the “cross-acceptance method” used in New Jersey. This approach is designed to reform a top-down, centralized approach to planning. We support this approach. Implementation involves first a series of meetings and discussions with municipalities, regional planning organizations, and representatives of OPM to discuss a draft state plan. All parties are supposed to understand where their plans and goals differ from others’. OPM got through this stage but never attained the final and critical stage of negotiation, which concludes with formal statements of agreement or disagreement with the plan. Here is how it is describe on New Jersey’s website:
“Cross-acceptance concludes with written Statements of Agreements and Disagreements supported by each negotiating entity and the State Planning Commission. The State Planning Commission will incorporate the negotiated agreements into the Draft Final State Plan. Cross-acceptance is, by definition, a negotiating process. The State Plan and the State Plan Policy Map are intended to represent the input of counties, municipalities and the public so that we can all work together to create a State Plan that makes sense for all of New Jersey.”
Our sense is that many local groups feel they were only partly listened to and the state does not have the benefit of the clarity provided by the full cross-acceptance process. Moreover, the curtailed process does not meet the statutory requirements in PA 10-138:
“Section 1. (Effective from passage) (a) As used in this section, (1) "cross-acceptance" means a process by which planning policies of different levels of government are compared and differences between such policies are reconciled with the purpose of attaining compatibility between local, regional and state plans … “
Recommendation: For this and other reasons (see below), we ask the Committee to postpone action on the state plan until the cross-acceptance process is complete.

Less Text. Although statutes and most people refer to the “state plan of conservation and development,” the title of the plan is “conservation and development policies …” (emphasis added). This signals that the document will present policies or principles, with the details of implementation to be found or developed elsewhere. The text is still organized around the “six principles of smart growth,” but the document is much shorter than the previous plan (45 pages versus 113).

There are benefits to a shorter text. We support this change, especially given limited state resources for research and writing. But the transition raises questions:
  • Does the elimination of material indicate a change in state policy (as courts might rule)?
  •  Some of the growth principles and policies are so broad as to permit multiple interpretations. Will there be ongoing service by OPM to help people determine what is consistent with the Plan and what is not?
  •  If people are supposed to turn to one or more other plans to help in interpretation and to know how to flesh out a policy, which plans are authoritative? If plans are not consistent, which plan trumps which?

OPM evidently intends to incorporate by reference various state-agency plans cited at the end of the text in each section. These plans are to be used for “more information and policy guidance” beyond what is found in the state master plan (page 6). But is a “guidance” document an authoritative statement of state policy on the same footing as the state Plan? If so, there should there be explicit statements in the state Plan and in the various agency plans cross-referring to each other when relevant.

Recommendation: Provide a more detailed explanation of when consistency with the Plan is required and how one can determine if a specific project is consistent or not. Clarify the status of the state agency plans vis a vis the Plan.

Generally, it appears that the deletion of detail is more costly to conservation than development. This tilt toward development appears more vividly in the map.

The Map

The most controversial aspect of the Plan has been the Locational Guide Map (LGM). It is not entirely clear whether the map is supposed to function as optional guidance or as a depiction of detail that is integral to the Plan itself. OPM has been clear that by law and practice the map should not be used as a definitive measure of whether a project is consistent with the Plan. Nevertheless, the Plan is often so used, similar to the way that a town’s zoning map is used to determine what can be put where.

Although the map may be mere optional guidance for many projects, it has been interpreted as required for showing the Priority Funding Areas (PA 05-205). The relationship between the map and criteria for funding makes the map extremely important to state and municipal officials, conservation and housing non-profits, developers, and many others.

The map is in this Plan based, for the first time, on census districts, and has a new set of categories by color (Priority Funding Areas, Conservation Areas, Village Priority Funding Areas, etc., through to Undesignated Lands). It also shows transportation infrastructure and sewer lines and plants. Unfortunately, despite a major effort, the map is still quite inaccurate and incomplete.

Some advocates have advised simply discarding the map, leaving the text alone as the Plan. We do not agree. If this map is not available, people will just use other maps. Moreover, the interactive version of the map has the promise of being a great planning tool.

Recommendation: Postpone adoption of this map until it is more complete and accurate. Provide an inducement to municipalities and regional organizations to submit data. Establish a streamlined process for making fact corrections to the map (location of roads, commercial districts, protected lands, etc.).

Miscellaneous Edits

  • Page 18, last sentence implies that decentralized water and wastewater systems will not require publicly funded expansion of infrastructure. This was not the case in the state’s first (and, I believe only) decentralized wastewater district, which is in Old Saybrook. Public funding was very much needed.
  • Page 19, bullet 5, clarify that mitigation of wetlands loss through wetlands creation is extremely difficult (and expensive) to do successfully; it requires expert, ongoing supervision. CEQ has stopped tracking created wetlands in their annual report because the data is so difficult to gather. • Page 24, first bullet. “Utilize an integrated watershed management approach [for public drinking water]. Here and elsewhere, the plan should indicate whether a prescription would require significant changes in state law (as this would) or is within reach under existing laws and policies.
  • Page 24, third bullet. Here, somewhat inexplicably, the plan has deleted the public health standard of two-acres per unit in a drinking-water watershed. But it has added a limit of 10 percent area coverage in such a watershed. The latter is a good limit and should be applied where feasible (commercial development often tracks river and aquifers and includes miles of pavement and roofs). We ask that both standards be included in the plan.
  • Revisit the comments of the statewide environmental organizations submitted for the earlier draft and this version of the plan. These comments include much important information and advice. Many changes were made but many important points were set aside. In other words, this testimony from Rivers Alliance is incorporating by reference the comments of our colleagues.


If the Plan and LGM (map) are adopted in their present condition, the state will not have the benefit of the clear, accurate, useful tool that is actually within reach. The creators of the Plan were given a mission-impossible considering the fragmentation of Connecticut’s governing entities; the requirement to create a new, complex map; the shortage of time and resources.
Recommendation: This is not an emergency. Take the time to do the job right. Reconsider the relatively great expansion of growth areas versus conservation areas in the text and map. Connecticut is traditionally a place of industry, natural beauty, and healthy communities.


Rivers Alliance's Comments on State Plan of Conservation and Development

Below is Rivers Alliance testimony, submitted October 2012.

Dear Dan Morley:

Thank you for the opportunity to learn about and comment on the state conservation and development policies plan (the Plan). We, at Rivers Alliance, appreciate the major effort put into highlighting important principles and making presentations across the state. However, through no fault of OPM, the revision of the existing Plan has been encumbered with a number of new mandates: a bottom-up approach (cross-acceptance); new mapping methodology; new legislation that relates to the content of the plan, in particular the open space bill (PA 12-152); and a more emphatic state policy of reducing barriers to development and job creation. This is not a run-of-the-mill revision; it is new and difficult.

Planning Processes and Timetable

The sequence of planning tasks assigned to OPM and its sister agencies is in an illogical order, with an impossible timetable. PA 12-152 reflects a general agreement that the state has been operating without good data and valuations on state-owned lands, conserved lands, farmland, and semi-conserved lands. The law calls for an estimate of the extent of preserved, or conserved, land and for recommendations for arriving at a more accurate accounting. At the same time, DEEP is revising the Green Plan, which addresses the state's open-space goals and progress toward those goals.

Common sense suggests that OPM's Plan and map should be based in significant part upon the data and recommendations developed under PA-152 and the Green Plan. But all three (and probably other related plans) are being written almost simultaneously. This guarantees a hodge-podge result, with a consequent need for backing and filling to try to come up with consistent and comprehensive data, models, and policies.

So our first comment is to urge OPM to seek a revised timetable, and in the meantime to work with a provisional text and map (possibly a corrected version of the existing map).

Additional time would also allow the cross-acceptance process to proceed to a more satisfactory conclusion.

The New Jersey cross-acceptance model, used by Connecticut, has a much fuller, bottom-up process that requires longer and more detailed negotiation among state, regional, and local entities -- and the public -- to arrive at consistent goals, strategies, and policies. Where consistency is not attained, New Jersey requires written statements of agreement and non-agreement, which can be used to identify areas where more work is needed. By contrast the Connecticut process cuts off part way through, with the deadline for public comments less than a month from the final public presentation. There has not been time for a full back-and-forth on how to reconcile differences to the benefit of all.

The Map

OPM has received numerous complaints, corrections, and questions regarding the Locational Guide Map (LGM) that accompanies the Plan. It is my understanding that the revision of the map was undertaken to provide a more objective basis for designating areas for growth, conservation, and so forth. The idea is to use census blocks and show existing conditions. But OPM has been handicapped by lack of good information, and existing conditions are not accurately represented. This map may be fixable; OPM is doing its best; but this is a complicated task requiring the cooperation of several agencies. Most likely it would be simplest to start over with different rules. In the meantime, the existing map is more useful.

Again, I believe more time is needed to get a good result with the LGM. In addition, OPM should clarify how much weight officials and the public should give to the text versus the map. If there is an inconsistency, which is the governing document? Is the LGM the authoritative source for the Priority Funding Areas? Understandably, government entities and non-profits want to be sure that both the text and the map reflect state policies, so that they can know whether a given project can be described as consistent with the Plan and thus eligible for various funding opportunities.

The Map illustrates particularly clearly the state's shift from balanced support of conservation and development to stronger support for development. We agree with comments submitted by the Groton Open Space Association and the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA). Elaine LaBella at HVA wrote:

"The Locational Map, which is used to guide where state development, transportation and conservation money is spent, indicates that a considerable portion of the state falls within Priority Development Areas, while the current Plan and Locational Map shows that the majority of the state falls within Preservation or Conservation Areas. "

This is quite a change.

Concision vs. Detailing

The new Plan is much more concise than previous plans. This is beneficial in many ways. However, in the transition, a legal analysis should be done to determine whether deletion of material will be interpreted in court cases as signaling a deliberate change in state policy. The Plan should identify any policy changes associated with compacting the text.

Drinking Water Watersheds

For example, the Plan no longer specifically recommends low-density development in drinking-water watersheds. The following (and much more) has been deleted.


"As a general density guideline for water supply watersheds, require minimum lot sizes of one dwelling unit per two acres of 'buildable' area (excludes wetlands). Consistent with the carrying capacity of the land, encourage cluster-style development to lessen impervious surfaces and avoid development in more sensitive areas."

In its place we have the very different guidance:

"Regulatory approaches that are environmentally sound, allow for least-cost compliance options, provide operational flexibility, and offer incentives for pollution prevention should be actively pursued wherever practical to reduce the time and cost associated with doing business in Connecticut."

Does this mean that OPM is backing off its past position, which complemented DPH's guidance of two-acre zoning or greater in source-water recharge areas? If not, could the DPH guidance be incorporated by reference?

Natural Waters, Wildlife, and Open Space Undervalued

The text and map together indicate that state is dramatically rolling back its previous commitment to protect natural waters, wildlife, and open space. Is this intentional? Some planners have discussed using the incorporation-by-reference in these areas, too. For example, if the Plan refers in principle to the importance of saving open space a (more to come)

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Rivers Alliance of Connecticut
PO Box 1797
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Litchfield, CT 06759