Farmington Valley residents and officials will now have more time to comment and a chance to speak publicly about a University of Connecticut water supply plan that could potentially divert water from the Farmington River watershed.
UConn has responded to the increasing number of requests for extending the comment period on the environmental impact of its plan to eventually provide up to 1.93 million gallons in additional water supply for future growth on the Storrs campus and potentially northern Mansfield.
The plan lists three viable options for the supply — The Connecticut Water Company’s Northern Operations Western System in Tolland, Windham Water Works in Mansfield or the Metropolitan District Commission's infrastructure in East Hartford.
Numerous town officials in the Valley and surrounding towns have asked for more time to evaluate and respond to the MDC proposal, which would involve draws from the Barkhamsted and Nepaug Reservoirs.
On Thursday Jason Coite, P.E., Environmental Compliance Analyst with UConn's Office of Environmental Policy, said the comment period, first extended through Friday, will be now be extended to Jan. 31. In addition a hearing will be held in the Farmington Valley at a date, time and place to be announced, he added.
The MDC has argued that it is best suited for the proposal and can provide the water without negatively impacting the Farmington River.
The Farmington River Watershed Association, which originally spoke out against the project, has since been silent after participating in a story on Simsbury Patch. Eileen Fielding, executive director of the FRWA, said she was contacted by MDC officials reminding her of a 1998 contract that prohibits the association from commenting on MDC projects.
When the MDC proposed use of the West Branch Reservoir to supplement the company's drinking water supply in 1998, the FRWA fought hard against it. MDC ultimately agreed to not tap the the reservoir before utilizing its Glastonbury well fields, Fielding said. In return, the FRWA had to agree not to get involved in future MDC affairs.
The FRWA was also issued a cease and desist order for a petition against the MDC proposal that was posted on the organization's website. The petition has since been taken down.
Chris Stone, Assistant District Counsel to the MDC, previously told Patch, "The MDC has the existing capacity within its safe yield to supply 12 million gallons of water per day (MGD) to future customers without impacting existing customers or diverting additional water from the Farmington River."
Local officials have argued the MDC violates state planning due to its proposed interbasin water transfer, opens up the possibility of much greater diversions to other towns along the pipeline and does not adequately reflect the worst-case scenarios for the river.
Recently the Farmington Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited joined the chorus of local commissions and officials that argued against points in the proposal.
"The EIE assumes that adequate flow in the West Branch can be maintained based on a study using flow data from 1970 to 1990," wrote chapter president William F. Case. "Given recent changes in climate, the near disaster during this past summer, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and the dry period in 2010, we question whether the 1970-1990 data adequately reflects violent storm events and long periods of extremely dry weather that seem to be more the norm. West Branch economic activity generated by anglers and boaters is significant when flows are adequate, but that activity declines to near zero during a dry August and September."
Canton First Selectman Richard Barlow also sent a letter to UConn Thursday. He addressed issues of timing, the addition of the MDC proposal well into the project and the lack of input from Valley towns. He argued the plan could actually affect river activities such as fishing, boating and potentially hydropower in Canton. Barlow also stated that the environmental impact statement does not address several issues, including water conservation.
"Nowhere in the EIE is there any discussion of meeting furture needs by increased water conservation and reuse and leak reductions to their current distribution systems. This is surprising as it is publicly known that UConn has taken some actions in these areas as a result of them drying up the Fenton River during past low flow periods," he wrote.
Barlow also questioned the report's mention of future residential development in Mansfield.
"Where in the state Plan of Conservation and Development does it provide for a town to obtain its development goals at the expense of other towns?" he wrote.
The environmental impact, study and links for commenting can be found here.
Written comments should be sent to: Jason M. Coite University of Connecticut – Office of Environmental Policy 31 LeDoyt Road, U-3055 Storrs, Connecticut 06269
Coite said commenters who have already submitted statements could amend them before the end of the month.