Monday, July 20, 2009

Maromas: Land of Opportunities. Part II

The Connecticut Valley Hospital owns about 500 acres of undeveloped land in the Maromas section of Middletown, in addition to their sprawling campus. They own this land to protect their water supply, which consists of four large reservoirs.

This is the second installment of a 4-part series on recent city and state actions which have the potential to impact this land, and neighboring city-owned land. Part I covered recent actions by elected officials, specifically the Mayor's 'veto' of an attempt at the State Legislature to move the conservation easements on reservoir lands from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Parts II, III, and IV will discuss actions which are primarily administrative rather than legislative, although all actions by city and state administrators are ultimately overseen by elected officials.

Part III
Part IV

Water Here and Water There
Middletown is endowed with an overabundance of water. The City has 10 productive wells which tap an aquifer located along the Connecticut River. Aquifer water is naturally filtered underground, and then is filtered again at the John S. Roth water treatment plant. The City also gets water from five reservoirs, built in 1897 and located southeast of Mt. Higby. This surface water is treated at the Charles B. Bacon water treatment plant.

Altogether, the City produces 5 million gallons of drinking water per day, about 70% of which comes from the wells along the Connecticut. Guy Russo, director of Water and Sewer, told me that a total staff of 5 people in his department maintain the water supply, treat the water, and test it for contaminants.

The City Water Department will also manage two wells drilled by the Kleen Energy power plant on River Road. Those wells were drilled under the Connecticut, and will draw water from the River, filtered through the silt at the bottom. Kleen Energy is permitted to take up to 7.4 million gallons of water per day (this water is for cooling the power plant, not for drinking).

Middletown has other possible sources of water. The Laurel Brook Reservoir was constructed shortly after the Civil War, after the General Assembly passed a bill entitled, "An Act to Provide for a Supply of Pure and Wholesome Water for Public and Private Purposes in the City of Middletown." Laurel Brook is now classified as a drinking water supply only in case of an extreme emergency which made other water unavailable. However, Laurel Brook is still protected as a supply of drinking water.

For historical reasons, CVH has its own, independent water supply, drawing off of four reservoirs in Maromas, and treating the water at its own water treatment plant. CVH produces 200,000 gallons per day, and has 3 employees who are responsible for maintenance of the supply, and treatment and testing of the water.

Middletown's water supply is the envy of many towns in Connecticut. A pristine watershed on the east slopes of Mt. Higby and the west slopes of Maromas keeps a total of 9 Class I reservoirs overflowing with water, in addition, an aquifer easily yields 4 million gallons a day. Most other towns have neither surface water nor a large aquifer of fresh water. Neighboring towns such as Durham have approached Middletown to purchase our water.

Dear Governor Rell.
On May 11th of this year, Water and Sewer Director Guy Russo approached the State to suggest that CVH purchase water from Middletown instead of supplying it themselves. He wrote:
The City of Middletown's Water and Sewer Department recently completed a project to eliminate CVH's sewage treatment plant as part of a regional interconnection project that not only saved the State money, but eliminated a point discharge into the Connecticut River. At the time that the project was preceding [sic] the City of Middletown discussed the possibility of also serving the CVH Campus with City water, leaving the staff to do what they do best; patient care.
Therefore I would like to renew this offer and recommend this plan to you. I have determined that City of Middletown can supply the CVH Campus more cost effectively than they can currently supply themselves. The entire campus can be served for approximately $250,000 annually. The State should compare that cost against their operational costs, maintenance of reservoirs, water testing, and State employees (3 employees), plus benefits, to attain the same goal.Presently, there appears to be a redundancy of efforts between CVH's water supply distribution facilities, that are more antiquated, and the City of Middletown's, that are more in line with current technologies.
In a phone interview, Russo reiterated his belief that the State could save a significant amount of money if they purchased water from Middletown. He also touted his department's record in supplying clean water, "We have a history of caring for our reservoirs on our property. We've made incremental upgrades [to all the features of the water supply system]."

Dear Mr. Russo.
Russo made his proposal specifically in the context of HB6389 ("An Act Promoting Regionalization"), which was written by the governor to support her budget proposals, but not voted on by the Legislature. As a consequence, Governor Rell passed Russo's letter to W. David LeVasseur, undersecretary for the Intergovernmental Policy Division.

LeVasseur dismissed Russo's offer with a letter which ignored his suggestion, and instead focused narrowly on the technicalities of legislation, basically saying Middletown had contacted the wrong bureaucracy:
As currently structured, [the Regionalization] program is specifically tailored for cooperative ventures between two or more municipalities and is designed to provide funding for the acquisition of equipment or other tangible assets that help promote such projects. Unfortunately, no agreement has been reached yet on the specific terms of a budget for the upcoming biennium and accordingly, this program has not yet been adopted. Further, if this proposal was included in an adopted budget and the language of the Governor's initial proposal was unchanged. [sic] It is questionable whether your project would qualify as you propose the involvement of only one municipality and the current language for this proposed program envisions projects between two or more municipalities....
Once again, thank-you for your letter to Governor Rell and I wish you well in any ongoing discussions you may have with the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
Russo told me that he was not pleased with the form-letter response, "I don't know you well enough to tell you what I really said when I read their letter." He said he has no plans at this time for submitting another proposal to the State.

Why does City Hall want to supply CVH with water?
Mayor Giuliano has promoted the idea that drinking water may be one of Middletown's most valuable assets, capable of generating revenue from its sale to our hydrologically less fortunate neighbors. In this case, the sale wouldn't even be to a neighbor, it would be to a resident of the City. The current usage of water by CVH, 200,000 gallons per day, could be supplied with minimal increase in the City's water production (currently 5 million gallons per day), and thus virtually all of the $250,000 per year could go towards the city's budget.

Russo mentioned another reason for supplying city water to CVH, "It would at least give us access to their reservoirs." This would make possible an expansion in the City's water supply, raising further possibilities for selling water to other municipalities, "Water is a resource to make Middletown rich."

Impact on Land Preservation in Maromas
If CVH received all of its water from existing Middletown water supplies, then the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services would no longer have a use for the reservoirs and the land surrounding them. If Middletown did not use the reservoirs for drinking water, then they need no longer be a Class I water source, and the area around the reservoirs in theory would no longer need to be protected as a watershed.

The possibility that 500 pristine acres could lose their protection as watershed frightens members of the Advocates for a Maromas Plan, a citizen activism group working with elected officials to protect Maromas from development by the state or other interests. I asked Giuliano if there was any connection between his May 26 'veto' of a legislative bill which would have given DEP a conservation easement on these watersheds, and the May 11 letter from Russo to Governor Rell. He said there was no connection whatsoever, saying, "You know, I didn't even know they [the 'veto' and the letter] were two weeks apart until you mentioned it."

Both Giuliano and Russo told me that it would not only be wrong to change the protection of the watershed, but it would also be virtually impossible. Russo said this would be true no matter whether the land was owned by DMHAS, the City, or a private individual, "I don't think it matters who owns the land."

The State statutes for class I water supplies are restrictive, and decommissioning a water supply requires a certificate of abandonment from the Commissioner of Public Health, according to State Statute 25-32. The Commissioner is required to find that the water supply would not be necessary to the city or to state, even in an emergency. Essentially, the only time that a water supply can be abandoned is if the water supply is unable to supply any water. This would not be true for any of the reservoirs which currently serve CVH, and thus the current protections would remain in place.

Thus, even if the city did supply the water to CVH, and even if the State then sold or gave the CVH reservoirs to the city, and even if the city decided not to use them for water, the land would still be under strict protection as a watershed. In any case, it seems clear from comments by both Giuliano and Russo that their desire is for a bigger and better water supply for the city to possibly sell to other towns, not for the elimination of the CVH reservoir land as watershed.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article but nothing is impossible, if the state wanted to decommission the land they could. I 100% guarentee you a governor like John Rowland could get it done.

Anonymous said...

excellent article indeed though i also agree that nothing is impossible. as a resident living near the reservoirs and associated forested watershed it makes me very nervous that these lands 'could' be altered. no matter how far fetched it may seem, the pressure is up for increased revenue and though politicians say one thing now it can just as easily be the opposite tomorrow. will stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

I was not clear whether Mr. Russo wanted to supply water to CVH or wanted CVH's water supply...Please, continue attempting to navigate these muddy waters with your excellent aricles. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Have the Big Dogs, Mr. Wilson, Mr. McHugh and Mr. Serra weighed in on these matters?