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
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.
Rainfall Data Catches Up to Weather
By Martha Smith, Analyst, Southwest Conservation
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
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
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
build infrastructure designed for present rain storms
assess existing critical infrastructure, such as bridges, for adequacy to
withstand extreme storms
c.) maintain our stream gauge network
all of the above
If you chose “d” congratulations.
UConn Rejects MDC proposal. Selects CT Water Co. Future Water Needs
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 (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
Archived comments on the proposal can be found
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! Click the link below to check it out for yourself.
If it crashes your browser, try switching to "Compatibility View"
According to the US 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
Phase one 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) with 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!
Rivers Alliance surveyed approximately 50 towns and environmental groups on regulations in place in their communities to manage
nonpoint source pollution, and regulations that they would like to have in the future. Following analysis of the survey results,
Rivers Alliance of Connecticut 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
State Plan of Conservation and Development.
Below is Rivers Alliance testimony on Feb. 23, 2013 for the state plan of conservation and
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:
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.
FOR THE CONTINUING LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE ON STATE PLANNING AND
TESTIMONY OF RIVERS ALLIANCE OF CONNECTICUT ON
DEVELOPMENT POLICIES: THE PLAN FOR CONNECTICUT, 2013-2018
Date: February 23,
To the Chairmen, Sen. Steve Cassano and Rep. Jason Rojas, and Members of
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
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
A New Approach
This plan was created with a new approach to both the
text and the map.
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’.
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
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:
elimination of material indicate a change in state policy (as courts might
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 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
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
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.).
• 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
• 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
Rivers Alliance's Comments on
State Plan of Conservation and Development.
October 4, 2012012
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
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.
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
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)