Sand Jose Water submits regulatory application to acquire CT Water Company
CT's WATER FOR SALE: San Jose Water (SJW) of California is currently seeking regulatory approval to acquire CT Water Co., one of CT's largest private water utilities. Last year, Aquarion Water Co. was bought by Eversource. Who will have the right to store and distribute (i.e. control) large volumes of CT's water? Many, many questions are being raised. Is this in the public's best interest? What will be done with any lands SJW wishes to sell off? Will it support the proposed State Water Plan? Does it regard water as a public trust resource? Are there potential conflicts of interest, given SJW is an out-of-state for-profit company which also has interests in real estate development? Will it be a good steward of our water sources and water infrastructure? Hopefully CT is not to become the land of "water opportunity" with a reasonably plentiful supply and "a favorable regulatory climate".
PLEASE SEE RIVERS ALLIANCE WEBSITE http://www.riversalliance.org/Top…/Water_Infrastructure.php… for an in-depth discussion. Details on submitting a comment or question to the Public Utilities Regulatory Agency, are also provided there: Docket # 18-07-10.
Save Our Water CT has submitted the following comments and questions to the Public Utility Regulatory Agency for its consideration in this deliberation:
September 2, 2018
Re: Docket 18-07-10 [Application of SJW Group and Connecticut Water Service, Inc. for Approval of Change of Control].
We are writing on behalf of Save Our Water CT to share our concerns regarding the acquisition of Connecticut Water Service, Inc. by SJW Group.
Save Our Water CT is a citizen-activist group that formed in early 2016 in response to Niagara Bottling’s negotiations with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) and the Town of Bloomfield to bring a large water bottling plant to Bloomfield. In 2012 the MDC proposed an 18 mile out-of-basin transfer of water to UConn. During the last two and a half years we have witnessed a serious, prolonged state drought; a reluctance and outright refusal by water utilities to publicly release non-security-sensitive water supply plan details; industrial rate discounting of water that rewards increased usage as opposed to conservation; and the opposition of the business and water utility lobby to the already-established statute referencing water as a public trust resource (CT G.S. 22a-15). Consequently, we have been following news of the proposed “change of control” of Connecticut Water Service with interest. Quoting briefly from page 3 of the joint application:
“The Authority has also found that it has a statutory responsibility, inherent under Title 16 of the General Statutes, to ensure that the change of control is in the public interest…… The change of control is in the public interest as it is expected to provide benefits to customers by providing opportunities to increase the reliability and adequacy of water service, to increase access to capital, and to improve customer service. Moreover, in the long run the Transaction will provide opportunities to reduce costs through economies of scale and operating efficiencies which will benefit customers by exerting downward pressure on rates.”
Our expectation and hope is that PURA will take a sufficiently broad view of what constitutes “the public interest” in considering this application. We think that Connecticut state agencies have an obligation to consider long-term impacts on all Connecticut citizens and on the environment in proposed “changes in control” of public trust resources – not just the proposed new company’s customers.
Apart from the question of whether the proposed acquisition would actually deliver to customers those purported benefits it is “expected” to provide, the acquisition would impact more than the company’s customers. For example:
We hope that PURA will take time to thoroughly and thoughtfully review this application. Connecticut water is a public trust resource and citizens are relying on you to safeguard that resource.
Thank you for your consideration.
See the CT Water Planning Council website for links to the full plan, executive summary, or 2 page summary: www.ct.gov/water/site/default.asp
Calling all citizens: now's our chance to have input into the draft version of the CT State Water Plan. After a year long process, the plan is out. The Water Planning Council is interested in hearing what the citizens of CT have to say. The plan will be submitted to the CT legislature in January of 2018.
Rivers Alliance and the CT Fund for the Environment have created a special website for citizen input. It leads you step by step through the process of commenting and allows you to view comments made by others before you: www.ourwaterct.org/
Save Our Water CT is in the process of reviewing the 612 page plan, but here are some initial comments:
Disappointing News: The gavel will be coming down on this year's legislative session and unfortunately it won't include any regulatory oversight of the ever-growing water bottling industry. Earlier this winter, Save Our Water CT's bills were not allowed to come to a public hearing in the Environment Committee. Despite this setback, we worked hard to craft an amendment that would require bottlers using our municipal water to publicly apply for and receive approvals from the Dept. of Public Health....and to ensure that they would be subject to all applicable contingency plans for drought, including any restrictions felt necessary by the Commissioner of Public Health. Negotiations with water utilities, the Dept. of Public Health, environmental allies, and our legislative champions ultimately failed just days before the end of the session. Hard news, especially given our state's recent serious drought. Steadily climbing corporate profits from bottled water, the anti-regulatory atmosphere beginning to pervade our legislature, and the opposition of the water bottlers all played a role.... See more below...
Still No State Oversight of Large Water Bottlers
Save Our Water CT is disappointed that despite the state’s recent severe drought, legislation to provide reasonable oversight over large water bottling industries in Connecticut failed to be taken up in the 2017 General Assembly Session.
An amendment requiring the Department of Public Health to certify the adequacy of the water supply for bottlers using municipal water, and to allow the Commissioner of Public Health to issue restrictions in cases of severe drought, hit roadblocks in the final weeks of the session. Last minute opposition by the industry contributed to the breakdown of negotiations between the water utilities, the Department of Public Health, environmental allies, and legislative champions Sen. Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) and Rep. Derek Slap, (D-West Hartford)
“These would have been reasonable and appropriate measures,” Valerie Rossetti of Save Our Water CT’s steering committee, said. “Presently no environmental review or renewable permitting is required for massive water bottling operations which often transfer water out of native watersheds and across state boundaries.”
Outcomes on water-related legislation:
CONSUMER ADVOCATE ESTABLISHED AT THE MDC: The group is pleased to report however, that HB 6008, creating an independent consumer advocate at the Metropolitan District Commission, has now been signed into law by Governor Malloy. The bill was driven by citizen outrage at the District’s decision to provide 1.8M gallons of water each day at discounted water and sewer rates to Niagara Bottling. It authorizes the Office of the Consumer Council to appoint a utility lawyer, who will hopefully provide increased transparency at the “quasi-public” water utility. Though the discounted rates were rescinded last year, the MDC has publicized its intention to re-explore an industrial rate structure. https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&which_year=2017&bill_num=6008
DEEP STRENGTHENS OVERSIGHT TO PROTECT STREAM FLOWS: Save Our Water CT also worked to support a newly amended Department of Energy and Environmental Protection regulation designed to help protect CT stream flow levels. Diversion permits will now be required to withdraw or transfer large amounts of water in certain watersheds affected by expanding or merging water utilities.
ACCESS TO WATER PLANNING INFORMATION STALLED: HB 7221, designed to allow access to non-security-sensitive water planning information, appears to once again have died in the legislature. Environmental advocates and citizens remain blocked from reviewing even one sentence of the massive 800-plus page MDC water supply plan, limiting their ability to provide input into decision-making for CT’s most valuable natural resource.
Testimony on SB-753: “An Act Concerning the Viability of Expanding the Bottled Water Industry in Connecticut” (OPPOSED):
Dear Senator Kennedy, Senator Miner, Representative Demicco, and Environment Committee Members:
On behalf of our 3,000 supporters, Save Our Water CT would like to thank the Committee for taking up the is of water bottling. The fact that the bill has been raised indicates that the Committee recognizes this as a state-wide issue. However, Save Our Water CT opposes the concept of a mere “Study Bill,” which would preempt urgently needed substantive action now:
• SB-753 would authorize a STUDY plan, not due until Feb 2018. There are no assurances that
meaningful action would ever be taken. There will be NO oversight of the bottled water industry while
reports are being written. A study bill announces open season for corporate raids on CT water.
• The state remains in a severe drought, which could become record-breaking by next summer. Now is
NOT the time to be studying the expansion of the bottled water industry in CT. According to the
US Drought Monitor for Jan 2017, 100% of the state remains in drought, with 41% in extreme drought and 78% in severe or extreme drought. Residents are being asked to conserve water and areas of southwestern CT and central CT are receiving emergency transfers of water. Despite some recent “normal” amounts of precipitation, our deficits over the past 3 years have not been reduced.
What will happen this spring and summer to crops, rivers, and residents?
• Our state drought plans do not include any intermediate triggers - so they offer no way to prioritize
water usage or protect residents and essential services during droughts. Only when the state’s largest
reservoirs reach the disastrous level of 10% of their storage capacity will our commissioner of public
health have the authority to order mandatory restrictions on the state’s largest water bottler, Niagara
Bottling. At that point, all industrial and residential use will be similarly affected. We need to halt the
production of bottled water that’s sent out of a stressed watershed or out of state at the very start of
voluntary conservation, unless a public health emergency requires it. We urgently need a revision of our
drought protection plans before allowing any expansion of the water bottling industry.
• Do we have enough water? The state water plan has now presented evidence that certain watersheds in the state contain more registered water diversions than water. During a recent Water Utility Coordinating Committee meeting, the vast majority of water utilities stated they expect to need more water within 5 years. Stream flow regulations, guaranteeing enough water for our state’s aquatic environment, are only now being implemented. Water supply plans have been shielded from public view and there is no indication that projections for precipitation and temperature changes due to climate change have been included. We need to establish renewable permitting for large water bottlers to ensure that state’s drinking water supplies, its agriculture, and its aquatic environments are protected now and in the future.
• Without immediate action to provide some oversight of the water bottling industry, our state public
trust waters are at risk of being sold off to corporate super-users at a discount. Discounts to super-
users promote over-use and contradict the conservation ethic of both the state plan of conservation an
ddevelopment and the state water plan. Should we all be turning off the water while brushing our teeth
while hundreds of millions of gallons of Grade A drinking water are heading out of state for corporate
profit? Declining block-rates for water should be re-examined now.
• CT residents have paid for the state’s water infrastructure. We are one of only 2 states in which
drinking water comes only from the purest sources, never from water that has previously been used.
The water bottling industry has already sought to take our municipal water while evading its fair share
of the costs. Niagara Bottling negotiated a deal to cut almost 80% of its Clean Water Project charges
once it uses over 500,000 gallons of water/day - a charge paid to fund infrastructure to keep the CT
River and L.I. Sound clean. After public outcry, the MDC wisely rescinded the ordinance codifying this
deal for 2017. But there’s no guarantee those discounts will be resurrected in the future. If anything,
our state could benefit from a surcharge on water bottling to cover its share of water infrastructure
costs- and from an increased bottle deposit fee to fund additional recycling efforts. Let’s not
shortchange our state economy.
• SB 753 mentions many worthwhile considerations, but omits explicitly mentioning legitimate issues
that need to be addressed. In particular, certain environmental and quality-of-life impacts are not
mentioned, including the effect of increased use of water for bottling on stream flows and aquifers,
increased pollution and noise from truck traffic, road wear and tear, chemicals used in the manufacture of plastic bottles, as well as the millions of additional plastic bottles added to the waste stream. About
60% of bottles with deposits are re-cycled – but 40% are not. Large water bottling plants - such as Niagara’s existing plants that operate 4 lines – can produce over 10 million bottles per day. For such plants, on average, 4 million bottles per day are not recycled – instead ending up in land fills and in our environment.
Study alone is essentially a call to INACTION for two more years. We need thoughtful, reasonable,
action NOW, as presented in several bills that have been introduced and that deserve a hearing:
• HB-6349 Drought Protection
• HB-6341 Permits for Large Water Bottlers
• HB-6319 Water Rates for Water Bottlers
• HB-6342 Uniform Clean Water Project Charge Rates
• HB-5619 Regulation of Bottled Water in CT
These bills would provide critical pieces of action needed to ensure the prudent management of our state’s valuable water resources. Among these are:
• Establishing prioritizations for water usage during declared droughts
• Ensuring that water rates for large-scale water bottlers in the state are not lower than rates for residential customers
• Providing for the uniform assessment of the “clean water project charges” of the Metropolitan District Commission
• Requiring a permit for large-scale bottling operations, except when such bottling operations are required to meet a public health emergency. If these bills are not raised for a public hearing,the substantive protections contained in them must be included in SB-753.
Again, thank you for raising this issue and for your consideration.
SAVE OUR WATER CT
(submitted by Paula Jones)
Breaking News: There will be a public hearing held on SB-753 by the Environment Committee on Friday February 3rd beginning at 10 AM in Room 1D of the Legislative Office Building.
"For the first time in Connecticut's long running drought, the Metropolitan District has issued a drought advisory to its 400,000 water customers......"
Save Our Water CT
Citizen advocates acting to protect and conserve Connecticut's public trust waters.