April 12, 2004
ABANDONED RESERVOIR LAND
By: Paul Frisman, Associate Analyst
You asked if out-of-state companies have purchased abandoned reservoirs and about legislation that would address this.
According to a report based on records compiled by the departments of Public Health (DPH) and Public Utility Control (DPUC), 17 water company reservoirs have been abandoned since 1988, 15 of them owned by investor-owned (private) water companies. These 15 reservoirs totaled more than 3,500 acres. Of that amount, approximately 2,900 acres (82.5%) have been preserved as open space, 327 acres (9.3%) have been used for a variety of municipal purposes (industrial parks, schools, athletic fields), and 288 acres (8%) have been sold for commercial development, primarily residential housing. The two private firms that purchased water company property are incorporated in Connecticut.
The legislature is considering SB 465, which would make it harder for a water company to abandon a surface water supply source.
ABANDONMENT AND SALE OF RESERVOIRS
The law requires private water companies to obtain a Department of Public Health (DPH) permit to abandon a water supply source. The DPH commissioner must grant permission unless the water company would
need the water supply in an emergency, or if the proposed abandonment would impair the company's ability to provide a pure, adequate and reliable supply for customers now or for in the next 50 years.
If the company is required to file a water supply plan (i.e., it supplies water to 1,000 or more people or 250 or more consumers), the commissioner must also find that abandonment is consistent with it.
In making his decision, the commissioner must (1) consider the company's water supply needs and (2) consult with the Department of Environmental Protection, DPUC, and Office of Policy and Management (CGS § 25-33k).
RESERVOIRS ABANDONED SINCE 1988
The Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE), a nonprofit environmental organization, has compiled a list of 17 reservoirs that private water companies have abandoned since 1988. This report is based on that list and a review of DPUC dockets by Roland LaPierre, director of land management for the Aquarion Water Company of Connecticut. We have also spoken with officials of the water companies involved.
According to this information, seven private water companies received permission to abandon 15 reservoirs, totaling 3,515 acres, between 1988 and 1999.
Most of this land (2,900 acres) is preserved as open space by DEP, the town in which the property is located, or a nonprofit trust. About 327 acres is being used for state or municipal purposes, such as an industrial park (Ansonia and Derby), schools (Ansonia and Seymour), and athletic fields (Derby).
The remaining 288 acres has been sold for commercial development, much of it residential (Seymour and New Milford).
AN ACT CONCERNING WATER SUPPLY ABANDONMENT
This bill, which was reported favorably by the legislature's Public Health Committee on March 18, 2004, would make it more difficult for a water company to abandon a surface water supply source, such as a reservoir, pond or lake. The current criteria for determining whether to grant an abandonment permit would continue to apply to groundwater sources.
Under the bill the DPH commissioner cannot permit a water company to abandon a surface water supply source unless he determines it is not needed for present or future use as a drinking water supply, apparently anywhere in the state and for any period of time. (As noted above, current law requires that he find only that the water company-owner does not need the supply now or during the next 50 years, and would not need it in an emergency.) It makes this criterion the sole factor in determining whether to grant a permit.
Under the bill, if the commissioner allows a water company to abandon a surface water source, the company's right to use or divert water from it reverts to the state. The bill also requires a water company seeking to abandon any water supply source to notify the chief elected official of the town (or towns) where the source is located, allows towns to submit comments to the commissioner, and requires him to consider the comments when reviewing the permit application.
Under current law, a water company seeking to sell an abandoned water supply source must first offer it to other water utilities. The bill requires the commissioner to consider water utility coordinating committee supply plans in determining (1) which water companies must be notified about another company's intent to sell a water source and (2) which company should be permitted to buy the source in the event more than one wishes to.
We have attached a copy of the bill, which is also available on-line at AN ACT CONCERNING WATER SUPPLY ABANDONMENT.