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.
Protect CT’s Water Security: Provide Oversight for Large Water Bottlers: A STUDY BILL IS NOT ENOUGH!
Bill to "study" Expanded Water Bottling will be the only "water bill" allowed to come up for a hearing. Powerful Opponents want to "study" water bottling, while leaving it without any oversight. While the drought continues, CT will still be open to corporate water raids.
A Letter to Our Legislators:
As our state continues to suffer from a withering drought, I am calling on you to protect our public trust waters. With climate change an ever-increasing concern, it’s crucial to preserve our Grade A drinking water and protect our watersheds, not only for the immediate future but for generations to come. We need to ensure adequate water supply for our homes, environment, agriculture, businesses, and recreation before allocating it irretrievably to private corporations.
Last year we saw a multi-national water bottling company establish itself in our state with virtually no public input or state oversight. Niagara Bottling of California received local tax abatements and unprecedented discounts on water and sewer rates (Clean Water Project rates) on up to 1.8M gallons/day of Grade A municipal drinking water. No environmental review or state permitting was required. No expiration date on its claim to state waters was placed. While drought warnings were sent to much of the state asking residents to conserve, this corporation was preparing to ship millions of single-serve plastic water bottles out of the watershed and beyond state borders. To our dismay, our current state drought plans do not include mandatory restrictions on this large-scale extraction until long after residents are voluntarily cutting back and reservoirs are at dangerously low levels.
SB-753 recognizes critical issues confronting Connecticut’s water supplies and environment as major water bottlers move into our state. However, study alone is essentially a call to inaction for 2 more years. As such, SB-753 is flawed if left without revision. We need legislation NOW that provides sensible, reasonable oversight of any sizeable expansion of the bottled water industry:
A STUDY BILL (SB-753) ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH! It is essentially a call to INACTION. CT's WATER NEEDS PROTECTION NOW! Water is a Public Trust, not a Corporate Asset.
An important public hearing will be held on Tuesday Dec 20th at 9:30 AM at DEEP's 79 Elm St. offices. Up for public comment will be a proposed regulation concerning Water Diversion Exemptions, identified by Tracking Number: PR2016-053.
Currently a Water Utility Co-ordinating Committee (W.U.C.C.) process is underway on a state level, in which water utilities are laying claim to "Exclusive Service Areas" (ESAs). In any given ESA, only the single water utility of record will be able to provide public drinking water service. Previously unclaimed areas of the state are up for grabs as are areas where current water suppliers are relinquishing their current claims. Water utilitites wish to be able to move water into or out of these newly expanded "ESA's" without the need for the diversion permits, which necessitate environmental reviews. Without the need for environmental review, streams can be sucked dry or new water pipelines can be extended to areas far beyond where they were originally intended.
SaveOurWaterCT is in support of the proposed amendment to section 22a-377(b)-1 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies to eliminate the exemption for use of registered water throughout an Exclusive Service Area. Essentially, water utilitites that expand their ESAs "will no longer be exempt from environmental permitting when they move water into newly ballooning and merged exclusive service areas" (see Rivers Alliance: www.riversalliance.org/Topics/Streamflow.cfm#registrations ).
Public comments will be accepted at the hearing or online until 4:30 pm on Dec 20th. They can be made on line either via email (Corrine.Fitting@ct.gov) or through the eRegulations site at eregulations.ct.gov/eRegsPortal/Search/RMRView/PR2016-053. Click the "COMMENT NOW" button. Please reference "Proposed Regulation Concerning Water Diversion Exemptions; Tracking Number PR2016-053 in your subject line on any emails. SUPPORT THE PROPOSED REGULATION.
Additional information on the new regulation is available at DEEP's website: www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=4808&Q=588490&deepNav_GID=1511
Diversions are essentially withdrawals of water from streams, rivers, reservoirs, or well fields. In 1982-3 over 1800 were "grandfathered" in, representing over 75% of all water taken in the state. Newer "takings" require a DEEP permit in order to ensure there is a proper balance of water use for humans, agriculture, aquatic environment, recreation, and industry. Currently these grandfathered diversions contain more water than actually exists in certain watersheds. A way to review and wisely permit them is urgently needed as part of the state's water plan. This proposed regulation covers a tiny slice of the problem, but is an important way to begin to re-gain control of the process.
Save Our Water CT
Citizen advocates acting to protect and conserve Connecticut's public trust waters.