What Exactly Does That Mean???
Some of our natural resources are so essential to life - and so necessary to ALL members of the public-that they are held "in trust" by the state- to preserve, protect, and sustain for this generation and generations to come. So what does that mean for water???
We don't individually OWN the water; instead, we get to USE it. Even though MDC officials in the Hartford area have been heard to say it's "their water", THEY DON'T OWN IT. They have been given money (from taxpayers and local, state, and federal government) to maintain storage, distribution, and treatment facilities for water use. They deliver water to customers and collect wastewater, and are compensated for their costs. Some of them are non-profit or municipalities; others are privately held companies, whose shareholders may realize a profit from the business.
Of note, our individual rights to USE the water are not absolute, but rather subject to the considerations of the public good. Think of it like a bank trust. The principle (money=our water) is in trust for the public both for now and the future. We get to use it (have trust monies distributed to use=use the water), but don't OWN the trust. The state (the trustee) makes sure the trust principle is wisely appropriated.....and if the trust principle is in danger because of misuse (endangering the supply, availability or purity of the water), then the state (and its public) have the right to address that. This doesn't mean there aren't laws governing how we use water (DPH or DEEP or state statutes) or that you can seize your neighbor's well. In this case, the trust has all the money it will ever get, i.e. there won't be more fresh water created on earth!
Last minute Fight Preserves "Water As A Public Trust" in Document....Weakly
A furious letter-writing campaign to the Water Planning Council (WCP) and Department of Public Health (DPH) prevented a last-minute push by water lobbyists, corporate interests, and-surprisingly- the DPH to remove all mention of "public trust" or to relegate it to the end of the plan under "future topics to be considered". You can view the plan, its 26 page executive summary, and the compendium of responses to citizen comments at www.ct.gov/water/site/default.asp
Page 2 of the Executive summary contains references to "public trust", noting:
The document now heads to the General Assembly where it will be presented to 4 committees of cognizance (Environment, Public Health, Energy and Technology, and Planning and Development). If approved, the Plan will move on to the General Assembly. If not approved, the Plan will go back to the WPC for revisions and then be re-submitted. At 24 months from the date of first submission, if the plan is not approved by the General Assembly, it will be forwarded to the Governor for adoption or rejection.
Senate Republicans Fasano and Witkos, water industry lobbyists and corporate interests demand the phrase be removed from the final version of the state water plan just prior to the final vote of the Water Planning Council.
A scheduled Jan 19th vote on the final draft of the first ever CT state water plan was abruptly cancelled after the Water Planning Council (WPC) received last minute letters from water industry and business lobbyists as well as a letter from the Republican Senate leaders demanding that "public trust" be removed from the document. See the Rivers Alliance website to read a copy of the letters
From Rivers Alliance: "The CT State Water plan has hit an astonishing road block right before it is due to go to the General Assembly for consideration. Public comment on the draft plan emphasized the importance of the concept that water is a public trust resource: it belongs to the public and is held in trust by the state, which must manage it in the best interests of the public. According to Kirk Westphal, the consultant most knowledgeable about the plan: "... the plan simply acknowledges the existence of the current statute, lists the issue as one that warrants further discussion, and introduces the concept in the section on balance in the executive Summary ('each person is entitled …'). The plan makes no effort to advocate for, interpret, or prioritize this issue."
The Dept of Public Health (DPH), CT Water Works Association (CWWA), and others immediately launched a campaign in opposition to this concept. Senators Len Fasano and Kevin Witkos also oppose this concept and insist that references to the public trust concept should be deleted.
The state comprehensive water plan is due to go to the legislature in February. Final edits were to be done Friday 1/19 in a meeting of the Water Planning Council. That meeting was rescheduled to Tuesday, January 23, 2018, at 10:30 a.m., at the offices of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, Ten Franklin Square, New Britain, Connecticut. The purpose of the meeting is to vote on the finalization of the Draft State Water Plan. The meeting will be open to members of the public, but participation will be limited to the members of the WPC. For those not attending in person, the Call-In Number is 888-658-6260 and the Participant Code is 7094124."
Of note, members of the public, a stakeholder in the process, noted numerous times throughout the planning process that this key principle should be deliberately expressed. It was, in fact, the number one issue commented on during the official comment period. Three of the 4 members of the WPC, as well as the plan's chief consultant, agreed. CT Statute 22-a15 already recognizes that" there is a public trust in the air, water and other natural resources of the state of CT and that each person is entitled to the protection, preservation and enhancement of the same".
However, receipt of the above letters and abrupt cancellation of the scheduled vote leave in doubt what the final version of the plan will be. Any omission of this concept would be a step backwards and a dismissal of the public's participation. And it would belie the foundational principle of the state water planning process that our state waters need to be held in public trust for the future as well as the present.
The WPC meets Tuesday 1/23 at 10:30 am at P.U.R.A. 10 Franklin Square New Britain. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Water Planning Council, made up of state officials from P.U.R.A.; O.P.M.; D.E.E.P.; and D.P.H. have met in December, 2017 and in January, 2018 to consider public comments and suggested input into the draft plan. The comment log can be viewed at:
Thanks are due to the MANY supporters of Save Our Water CT who sent in impassioned pleas for the state officials to recognize water as a public trust (perhaps the most frequently mentioned comment) and to recommend regulations for the sale of CT water to industrial corporate water bottlers.
After a heated debate, the consensus of the panel was to include water as a public trust in the body and executive summary of the State Water Plan, largely due to overwhelming public comment. Of note, the D.P.H. representative, Lori Mathieu, opposed its inclusion.
Still unknown is whether any mention of water bottling appears in the finalized document. Despite multiple comments made in person by members of Save Our Water CT, the draft plan included scant mention of the issue.
Stay tuned! The finalized plan will be submitted to the CT General Assembly on January 22, 2018. Public hearings will be held before it is adopted as state policy.
Save Our Water CT
Citizen advocates acting to protect and conserve Connecticut's public trust waters.