Opponents Attack Inclusion of "Public Trust " Language
The state's first water plan is back at the General Assembly- in its original draft form- with "public trust" language intact. A hearing date is yet to be set, but water utilities and business interests are already lobbying legislators to remove the simple re-statement of our 1971 Environmental Protection Act that the plan contains:
Section 22a-15: It is hereby found and declared that there is a public trust in the air, water, and other natural resources of the state of Connecticut and that each person is entitled to the protection, preservation and enhancement of the same.
It's crucial that the de-regulatory forces rolling through Washington, D.C. don't weaken CT's environmental protections. If actions affecting CT's water resources threaten their quality, quantity, or long term preservation, the state and its citizens have an over-riding interest and indeed a responsibility, to act. Removing public trust language removes this vital oversight.
In just the past few years, we've seen an effort to sell one of CT's largest water companies to a California corporation. We've seen Tilcon International try to sidestep watershed protection statutes to strip mine next to a New Britain reservoir. We've seen Niagara Bottling exploit a loophole in CT's water diversion statutes to move millions of gallons of water across watersheds without a permit, even in a drought.
Water is a public trust resource, not a corporate asset. It's time to pass our state's first water plan as is! Save Our Water CT will be monitoring the legislative process and posting updates as the session progresses.
As Immediate Public Opposition Mounts, MDC Rescinds Ordinance Changes
In response to rapid and growing public protest, the findings of the Independent MDC Consumer Advocate, and questions as to whether the structure of the proposed discounts violated the MDC's charter, the MDC board issued a press release on 11-16-2018 notifying the public of their intent to withdraw proposed ordinance changes prior to their scheduled November 19th Public Hearing.
Protestors still gathered outside the MC headquarters at 555 Main Street, Hartford prior to the hearing, chanting and displaying "No More Groundhog Days" posters- a reference to how the discounts "popped back up " just as Niagara Bottling applied for permits to expand the number of its bottling lines. The hearing room was packed to overflowing due to multiple citizen concerns: the discounts, the marked increase in water and ad valorem rates, concern for the availability of water to low-income residents, the need to continue the mandated cleanup of the 800 million gallons of MDC sewage which spill into the CT River each year during large rainstorm events, and more.
Of concern-and noted in the press release- are plans for the MDC to seek charter changes at the upcoming legislative session which would allow it to develop what is being labelled an "Economic Development Rate" similar to that in place at South Central Regional Water Authority. Though the SCRWA economic rate is time-limited, it is once again keyed to large water users. The entire question of whether the MDC should be involved in "economic development" remains very controversial- and is never mentioned in its charter. Stay tuned.
Attorney David Silverstone, the Independent MDC Consumer Advocate releases, an analysis of the proposed 2019 MDC budget
Attorney David Silverstone, the Independent MDC Consumer Advocate, examined multiple aspects of the proposed 2019 MDC budget. Of special note were his findings on the proposed "Economic Development Rate, which he deems : "especially problematic" :
"The proposed Economic Development Rate would give a 20% discount on all water consumption over 600,000 gallons per day. There is no cost justification for such a discount. Second and perhaps more importantly, for these largest customers the clean water project charge (also known as the special sewer service charge} would no longer be based on water consumption for water in excess of this 600,000 gallon threshold, but rather would be based on sewer flow associated with the excess over 600,000. The fundamental principle of linking the clean water project charge to water consumption would therefore be broken. This approach favors water customers who discharge less into the sewers than water used. This approach favors customers like water bottling plants, golf courses and the like.
The MDC should not be picking which types of customers get better rates for service. It should be providing service to all customers on an equitable basis. This treatment is simply not equitable. For example, a condominium association approached the MDC in the last several months and argued that it should not have to pay the clean water project charge on the water it used for irrigation. It meters this irrigation water separately from domestic consumption and the irrigation water was not discharged to the sewer. The argument was rejected on the grounds that all metered water is subject to the clean water project charge, whether it goes into the sewer or not. Under this proposed economic development rate, this principle is clearly violated. discount
The magnitude of this change in how the clean water project charge is calculated will vary depending on the tpe of customer. It could be substantial and in all likelihood will be far in excess of a 20% discount. For example, if a customer only discharges 30% of purchased water to the sewer, the customer would be getting a discount of 70% off the clean water project charge for water usage in excess of the 600,000 gallons/day."
OF NOTE: Niagara Bottling of California is the only MDC customer currently approaching this 600,000 gallons/day and discharges approximately only 20% of the water it uses into the sewers. Most leaves in millions of bottles a day loaded onto semi trucks and leaving the watershed.
See his full analysis in the document below.
Council Agrees With Resident Opposition to Inequitable Rate Structure
On Tuesday November 13, 2018 the Bloomfield Town Council unanimously adopted a resolution instructing its MDC Commissioner to vote against the proposed ordinances which would provide a 20% water rate discount and a potentially 80-90% Clean Water Project Charge discount to large water users for volumes of water that exceed 600,000 gallons/day measured through a single meter.
"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Town of Bloomfield hereby states its opposition to any discounting or reduced rate schemes for large volume users of our water..."
Multiple residents spoke before a packed town hall to voice opposition to what they perceive as a repeated attempt by the MDC to offer discounted rates for Niagara Bottling in return for increased water usage. Similar discounts were rescinded after a public outcry two years ago.
"What don't you understand about the word 'NO'?" asked one resident.
The proposed discounts have reappeared just as Niagara filed permits with the Town of Bloomfield to expand the number of bottling lines and just as a larger water main necessary for the increased water draw is nearing installation.
The discounts are the antithesis of a water conservation ethic and viewed by many as a very specific corporate giveaway. What other industry uses massive amounts of water through a single meter? And since much of the water is shipped away in bottles, up to 80% will not be discharged to the sewers. That will result in a Clean Water Project Charge discount of up to 80%. No other category of MDC consumer is treated in this way.
See the full text of the resolution below.
PROPOSED WATER AND CLEAN WATER PROJECT CHARGE RATE CUTS FOR MASSIVE WATER USE ARE HERE AGAIN
IN 2015 the MDC GAVE NIAGARA BOTTLING A BACKROOM SWEETHEART DEAL. IN 2016 AFTER A PUBLIC OUTCRY, THEY RESCINDED THE DISCOUNTS…. NOW THEY COULD BE COMING BACK….
MDC’S PROPOSAL FOR A SPECIAL ‘ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT RATE’? Those using over 600,000 gallons/day through a single meter will get a 20% discount on the excess. Their Clean Water Project charge also will be discounted- potentially by 80 or 90%. The Clean Water Project Charges, which exceed the actual water rate, are billed to all MDC residential customers who use MDC sewer services. They fund the EPA mandated Clean Water Project, slated to clean up wastewater overflow from the MDC's system. For everyone except the massive water users, the charge is based on the amount of water used. But for the super-users, they would get huge discounts by having only their actual wastewater measured. Residents who water their lawns, farmers who irrigate their crops, golf courses- all whose water goes back into the ground rather than the sewers, get no such break. BUT, bottling companies who export water out of the watershed in bottles and trucks, would be HUGE winners.
Of note, the rate cut is designed to exclude the purchase of treated water by other municipalities. So, large water sales to other CT Municipalities in need of drinking water, even if they exceed 600,000 gallons/day, would not be eligible. The most likely beneficiaries: large bottling companies. Who else uses such quantities of water through a single meter and transports water away from sewers.
Members of Save Our Water CT are opposed to large volume discounts, which are in direct opposition to the conservation ethic promoted by the State Water Plan and most water utilities. They also object to the discounted CWPCs. MDC consumers have paid for years, in their water charges and property taxes, for their water infrastructure. To exempt one large corporation such as Niagara Bottling of California, from paying its fair share points to an unnecessary corporate giveaway. As the only state in the country to have Class A drinking water which has never mingled with waster water, why is there ANY need to discount this public resource?
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.
Despite- or due to-legislative inaction, Governor Malloy today (June 14th) issued an Executive Order for state agencies to begin implementing the State Water Plan as originally drafted. The order also directed the Water Planning Council to re-submit the plan- in its original draft form- to the legislature by Dec 1st.
His order left intact the "water is a public trust" language that was so opposed by a coalition of water utilities, golf associations, and the CT Business and Industry Association.
As the water plan is largely a platform for informed decision-making, much of its work can proceed while awaiting a second round at the legislature. The Water Planning Council will meet on June 15th with "Implementation" leading its agenda.
See the Executive Order at: portal.ct.gov/-/media/D5B15C2FB2134AFAB6E70F56F516B7E7.pdf
It was a disappointing end to the 2018 General Session, with the failure of the first State Water Plan to be adopted. But the overwhelming public support for the inclusion of "water as a public trust resource" in the plan - and the vehement opposition by industry groups- brought the importance of our environmental protection laws to the forefront. Our 1971 CT General Statute 22a-15 declares as state policy that our air, water, and natural resources are held in the public trust. The plan is intact, still contains its important public trust language, and will return to the General Assembly next year, hopefully to more receptive legislators.
Save Our Water CT is taking a necessary break to re-assess, re-group, and re-strategize for the coming year. As we write, decisions are being made over allowing Tilcon Connecticut to strip mine Class I and II watershed lands, to allow California corporations to buy out CT water utilities, and to potentially re-instate water rate discounts for industrial water bottlers like Niagara Bottling of California.
We hope all those who care deeply for this precious resource make it an issue in the upcoming 2018 elections!
The 2018 legislative session ended at midnight on May 9th with no vote taken on the State Water Plan. After a public hearing on April 17th by the 4 committees of cognizance at at the General Assembly (Environment, Public Health, Planning & Development, and Energy & Technology) further advancement was blocked by a combination of special interest groups. Although a coalition of environmental advocates reached compromise language with the CT Water Works Association (CWWA) and the MDC, the CT Business and Industry Association (CBIA), and Sen. Len Fasano remained firmly opposed. The mere mention that "water as a public trust" was a frequently made public comment during the draft review, along with the citation of CGS 22a-15 in the draft document, was the reported cause. After years of work, the input of countless experts, and over a million dollars of state funds, our first state water plan will sadly need to await next year's legislative session.
With an ongoing bidding war by California corporations for a major CT private water utility, a pending decision on a proposal to grant Tilcon CT access to Class I watershed land for strip mining, and the possible re-introduction of large volume water discounts to Niagara Bottling of CA by the MDC, it's ever more important to make water policy an issue in this fall's elections.
Our first State Water Plan: developed after years of work, with input by multiple expert stakeholders and with unanimous approval by 4 state agencies (DEEP, DPH, OPM, PURA). It now awaits approval at the General Assembly. A fierce last minute lobbying campaign by the water utilities and business interests (among them MDC, CWWA, and CBIA) is attempting to strip out public input and delete recognition of water as a public trust resource. Will big $$ and scare tactics win again at the legislature? Or will our elected representatives respect citizen's concerns for our vital water resources? See the advocates' statement below.
Save Our Water CT
Citizen advocates acting to protect and conserve Connecticut's public trust waters.