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Home » SCIENCE AND NATURE » CONNECTICUT » The Connecticut Ecosystem
Jack's Brook, Roxbury, Connecticut After a Storm
The Connecticut Ecosystem

Part 2 - Water: A Scarce Resource?

By Mark B. Oliver | September 27, 2010

Previous Article in this Series

In this second part of our investigation into the ecosystem we look at that most vital of resources: water.

The overwhelming view seems to be that the summer of 2009 was unremittingly wet, with summer having only recently emerged after many weeks of rain.   The truth, as always, is a little more complicated.   While river flows were, on the whole, above average, rainfall totals were not particularly high but the storms simply more concentrated and powerful.

Morgan Reservoir, Bridgeport, Connecticut

In 2010, Governor M. Judi Rell, declared a drought, a stark contrast to the year before.   This is interesting for many reasons, not least of which is that 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2007 were also very dry but no drought was declared.   For some perspective, none of these years have approached the drought of record for Connecticut, which extended from 1962 to 1965 and lasted 30 months.

But the pattern is thought-provoking: the recent dry years have been interspersed with wetter years like 2008 and 2009.   This is consistent with what climate change scientists have been telling us: that overall, the northeast will get more precipitation on average, but some years will be dryer and some will be wetter.   If you compile precipitation records from any Connecticut weather station and graph them, an increasing trend is visible.   Thus, the challenge is to manage water.

Water allocation is a long term issue in Connecticut.   The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is proposing revisions to the Stream Flow Standards which are intended to increase the amount of water in streams in an attempt to sustain healthy natural fish and wildlife communities and these regulations are slowly moving through the legislative process.

A Connecticut Stream

While this initially seems to be uncontroversial, increasing stream flow means that less water is able to be drawn to support the local population and businesses.   So, the counter-argument to the regulations is that urban communities will eventually bear the financial burden for finding new water supplies.

The previous version (October 2009) of the regulations went to public hearing in January 2010 and were vigorously opposed by water companies, municipalities, and environmental groups! It seemed that nobody was happy.

Revised regulations were published by the DEP in August 2010 and they seek to create more of a balance between competing interests.   The new version is less complicated, which everyone is pleased with, since it is important that they are easily understood by all stakeholders.   The next stage in the legislative process is for the draft regulations to be considered by the Environmental Review Committee but at this stage it’s anyone’s guess whether the review committee will advance them to the legislative session for voting.

The management of water is further complicated by the fact that watersheds, the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off it goes into the same place, is a geographical feature that bears no relationship to municipal boundaries.   Inconsistent policies and regulatory requirements between municipalities, and the absence of a system to communicate and coordinate efforts, hampers a coordinated response to increased water demand.

The Stream Flow Regulations are not a cure-all solution and even if they do pass, they will not resolve the overriding the issue of managing expectations.   Residents, business and environmental groups may become accustomed to adequate water supplies during wetter years, but how will all interested parties react and cope with a significantly reduced water supply during the intermittent drier years?

In part three, we look at the importance of rural village life.

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