Sell Water To UConn? Or Flush It Away?

ConservationNatural ResourcesEnvironmental IssuesConnecticut Economic DevelopmentLong Island SoundU.S. Geological Survey

In a state which has suffered a net loss of jobs for more than a decade, the potential for economic development at and around the University of Connecticut is welcome news. Like other major universities such as Michigan, Duke and Stanford, which spawned significant economic development by focusing on their science and math departments, UConn is planning growth that will spur its research and the building of related businesses nearby.

With the prospect of this significant growth, however, UConn and Mansfield need more water — a resource the Metropolitan District Commission is able to supply.

The Hartford region is blessed with abundant clean and reliable drinking water. The drinking water system owned and operated by the MDC was created by our resourceful ancestors, building dams and gravity-fed pipelines from Barkhamsted and New Hartford to the eastern boundaries of East Hartford. More than 400,000 people in 11 towns use this water.

Water use has dramatically decreased over the past two decades. Total water consumption by MDC customers has gone from approximately 66 million gallons per day in 1988 to just under 49 million gallons per day now. Water-efficient washing machines use only 10 gallons of water as opposed to the 40 gallons used by older models. Shower heads have decreased flows. Toilets use less water. Industry has learned to use recycled water for manufacturing purposes. As a result, the MDC has more than 12 million gallons of drinking water per day within its existing reservoir system available to meet future demands.

It is important that this scarce resource be used to benefit the region. The sale of this water to UConn would mitigate the effect of the clean water surcharge all of our member town customers are paying. This surcharge, approved by the district board in 2007, pays for the costs of improvements to the area's sewer system to prevent unhealthy discharges of sewage into the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. This project will greatly reduce the levels of nitrogen that deplete oxygen levels in Long Island Sound, enhancing the fishing and oyster farming industries. The cost, which is borne by our water and sewer customers, is more than $2 billion.

Some public officials have taken the rather extreme position that the MDC dump the available drinking water into the rivers. This makes no sense. According to the U.S. Geological Survey gauging station at the Tariffville section of Simsbury, the Farmington River flow varies between 400 and 1,400 million gallons per day, depending on the season. Adding 5 million to 10 million gallons per day would have no practical or visible effect on the river flow, and benefit no one.

Worse yet, we would be throwing away a resource needed by the University of Connecticut and the town of Mansfield. In the mid-2000s the Fenton River, which is near the UConn well fields, was essentially drained dry. The damage to aquatic life was profound. Since that time, UConn has wisely managed its water resources to prevent a repeat of this disaster, but its expansion plans require a larger supply than is available.

As an MDC customer and chairman of its Water Bureau, using the water to aid growth at UConn makes far more sense than wastefully dumping the water into the river.

The MDC supports the creation of statewide planning for water resources, but not at the cost of current development. With unemployment at 8 percent, the last thing this state needs is another job freeze or unnecessary restrictions on responsible development.

In short, the MDC has an obligation to its water customers to sell water to lower their bills. Arguably, it has an obligation to share its water resources to areas of the state in need. It cannot, and should not, ever simply dump drinking water back into the river.

Tim Curtis is chairman of the Water Bureau of the Metropolitan District.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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