Covering the Waterfront: Comprehensive Water Resources Management

by Pullman & Comley, LLC

Public Act 14-163 authorizes the Water Planning Council, established by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22a-33o, to prepare a comprehensive state water plan.

The bill follows “water summit” meetings convened by state legislators in the fall of 2013 and a water conference at the University of Connecticut in February 2014. The existing Water Planning Council was established by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22a-33o, and has been responsible pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22a-352 for preparing a comprehensive state water plan. Public Act 14-163 expands upon this responsibility by directing the Council to consider and address numerous specific topics in a comprehensive, integrated fashion. The essential components of this process are as follows:

  • The plan is to be developed by July 1, 2017, and shall include or provide for:
  1. Unified planning program and budget;
  2. Consideration of regional water and sewer facility plans;
  3. Definition of state regions for comprehensive water planning;
  4. Identification of data needs and consistency of data reporting;
  5. Consideration of potential climate change impact on water resources and climate resilience;
  6. Involvement of interested parties;
  7. Consideration of individual water supply plans, water quality standards, stream flow classifications, water utility coordinating committee plans, the state plan of conservation and development, and other appropriate planning documents;
  8. Promotion of ordinances based on the Model Water Use Restriction Ordinance for water emergencies; and
  9. Examination of mechanisms to resolve conflicts concerning plan implementation.
  • The bill significantly expands and modifies the subject matter of the state water plan, requiring it to do the following:
  1. Identify quantities and qualities of water available for public water supply, health, economic, recreation and environmental benefits on a regional basin scale;
  2. Identify present and projected water demand on a state-wide and regional basin scale;
  3. Recommend use of water resources, surface and subsurface, in a manner that balances public water supply, economic development, recreation and ecology;
  4. Recommend steps to increase climate resiliency of resources and infrastructure;
  5. Recommend technology and infrastructure upgrades, interconnections and other major engineering projects;
  6. Recommend land use and other measures, including assessment of needs to acquire or protect land to ensure water quality and promote development in concert with available resources;
  7. Consider ecological as well as recreational, agricultural and commercial uses;
  8. Inform state residents about stewardship and conservation;
  9. Establish consumer conservation guidelines and incentives;
  10. Develop water reuse policy with incentives to match water quality to use;
  11. Meet data collection and analysis needs to support data-driven decisions;
  12. Consider ecological, environmental, public health and safety and economic impact of plan implementation;
  13. Include short and long term objectives and strategies to communicate and implement the plan;
  14. Incorporate regional and local water use and management plans and programs, plans for water and sewerage facilities;
  15. Promote intra-regional solutions and sharing of water resources;
  16. Develop and recommend strategies to address climate resiliency, including the impact of extreme weather events; and
  17. Identify needed amendments to laws and regulations.
  • The proposed plan will be posted for public comment and the Water Planning Council will hold at least one public hearing. The final plan will then be posted along with a report summarizing comments received and changes made in response.
  • The plan will be submitted to the Environment Committee by January 1, 2018, with a public hearing during the 2018 regular session of the General Assembly. The Environment Committee is to forward the plan to the General Assembly with its recommendation for approval, disapproval or modification.
  • If the General Assembly does not act before July 1, 2018, the plan shall be deemed approved. If the General Assembly disapproves the plan in whole or part, the plan shall be deemed rejected and shall return to the Environment Committee, but if that Committee fails to act within sixty days, the plan shall be deemed approved.
  • The Water Planning Council is to report by January 1, 2016, and annually thereafter, on the status of development and implementation of the state water plan.

These provisions are complemented by PA 14-163 section 4, which authorizes the Water Planning Council to enter into Memoranda of Understanding with independent consultants for advice or assistance in developing the state water plan. In addition, Section 5 amends existing law concerning the Council’s advisory group to include “regional councils of government” and “a public health district” among membership “balanced between consumptive and nonconsumptive uses.” Section 6 amends existing requirements to provide that water system plans within public water supply management areas must account for impact on other uses of water quality; the amendment specifies that impacts to consider include those on water quality, flood management, recreation and aquatic habitat.

Section 2 of PA 14-163 authorizes the Department of Public Health, in consultation with the Water Planning Council, to study the feasibility of creating a licensure or certification program for water professionals, including appropriate qualifications and levels of responsibility. Results of the study are to be reported to the General Assembly’s committees on the environment, public health, planning and development, and energy and technology by July 1, 2016.

Section 3 of PA 14-163 amends General Statutes Section 22a-32b to provide that DPH may declare a water supply emergency not only when such an emergency exists or is imminent, but when it “can reasonably be expected to occur without the immediate implementation of conservation practices.” It also authorizes DPH to authorize or order implementation of water conservation practices by a public water supply system or municipality in which the emergency occurs; this provision expands existing authority concerning sale, supply or taking of water and temporary interconnections for sale or transfer or water.

Finally, Section 7 of the Act directs DPH to study the feasibility of a general permit for minor activities that individually and cumulatively have only minimal environmental and public health effects, and that have no adverse effect on existing or potential uses of water or water bodies. The results of the study are to be submitted to General Assembly’s committees on environment and public health by July 1, 2015.

This Alert is part of Pullman & Comley's report on environmental legislation in the 2014 session of the Connecticut General Assembly.  The main article in this report can be found here. 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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