OLR Bill Analysis

SB 1094

AN ACT CONCERNING WATER QUALITY AND THE UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT

SUMMARY:

This bill makes the University of Connecticut (UConn) at Storrs a water company, restricting its ability to develop watershed land and making it subject to other laws affecting water companies.

Among other things, UConn must map its well fields by July 1, 1990 - a deadline that has already passed.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2003

WATER COMPANY LAND

By law a water company is an individual, partnership, association, corporation, municipality or other entity, aside from state agencies, that supplies water from a water supply it owns, controls, or manages, to two or more premises or more than 25 individuals. Water company lands falls into three classes, and are subject to Department of Public Health (DPH) regulation. The bill makes UConn a water company and subjects its lands to those restrictions.

Class I land, within 250 feet of a reservoir, is the most highly protected land and is subject to the most regulation. Class II and class III land is less restricted. A DPH permit is needed to sell, lease or otherwise dispose of, or change the use of, class I or class II land. A permit is also required, with minor exceptions, to change the use of such land. A water company does not need a permit to sell or transfer class III land (off watershed).

The bill makes UConn land class II and class III land, but does not appear to classify any UConn land as class I land. By law, class II land is land that is either on a public drinking supply watershed that is not included in class I, or completely off a watershed but within 150 feet of a reservoir. The bill specifically includes as UConn's class II land property the university owns, including (1) all level A aquifer protection land that is mapped, approved and regulated according to law and is within a public drinking water supply that is not a class I land; and (2) land completely outside public drinking supply watersheds that is within 150 feet of a reservoir or first-order stream tributary.

By law, class III land includes all unimproved land off watersheds and more than 150 feet from a reservoir or a stream that feeds it. The bill specifically includes as UConn's class III land all land the university owns that is (1) unimproved land outside public drinking water supply watersheds and more than 150 feet from a reservoir or first-order stream tributary and (2) neither class I nor class II land.

OTHER APPLICABLE WATER UTILITY LAWS

By law, utilities that serve 1,000 or more people must map the areas that contribute to and recharge wells in stratified drift aquifers. Additional requirements apply to utilities serving more than 10,000 people.

The bill requires UConn to map its well fields. By July 1, 1990, it must map all areas that contribute to and recharge wells in stratified drift aquifers. It requires UConn to map for potential wells it identifies as future water sources according to the coordinated water system plan prepared for its public water supply management area.

The bill requires UConn to submit a water supply plan to DEP for its approval with DEP's concurrence. The plan must evaluate the water supply needs in the area UConn serves and is subject to DPH regulations. If a utility (including UConn under the bill) submits a plan that involves the forecast of or actual land sales, abandonment or a supply source, or reclassification of its land, it must the notify the local municipality and various land conservation organizations. The plan must be revised when the university or the health commissioner determines, or every three to five years.

The bill requires the university annually to provide residential customers free educational material on (1) water conservation, (2) water supply source protection methods, including ways to reduce contamination, and (3) information developed by DPH on the health effects and sources of lead and copper. It must annually provide the health commissioner with copies of these materials.

It permits the university to sell bottled water, the costs and expenses for which must be kept separate from the water rates charged customers.

The bill subjects UConn to the law governing water supply emergencies. By law, the DPH commissioner, in consultation with the environmental protection commissioner and the department of public utility commissioners, can declare such an emergency. The DPH commissioner can order water companies, including UConn under the bill, to connect their water mains temporarily to permit the sale or transfer of water. By law, a violation of these orders is subject to a civil fine of up to $ 5,000 a day, with each day considered a separate violation.

It also subjects the university to civil penalties for violating certain drinking laws and regulations and DPH orders to discontinue or correct immediate threats to the public water supply.

BACKGROUND

Attorney General's Opinion on DPH Regulation of UConn lands

In response to a UConn request, the attorney general held on November 29, 2000, that statutes including those governing water companies, do not apply to state agencies unless they are specifically included in them. He held that while some statutes, notably those regulating drinking water quality, refer and apply to state agencies, UConn and other agencies are not subject to the laws restricting land transactions.

UConn's Water Supply

According to the university, its water supply system serves 23,000 users, about 90% of whom are from the university. It also serves the Mansfield Town Hall, E. O. Smith High School, a state prison, and about 15 commercial and more than 100 residential users.

Restrictions on Class I and Class II Land

A water company cannot assign or lease class I land, and can only sell it to the state, a municipality, or another water company. The buyer must agree to maintain the land subject to the restrictions in the law and those imposed by the DPH permit. The buyer cannot sell, lease, assign, or change the use of the land without a permit.

In addition, the utility can only change the land's use if it demonstrates that the change (1) will not harm the purity and adequacy of water supply, now or in the future, and (2) is consistent with a DPH- approved water supply plan filed by the utility. If DPH believes the proposal may significantly harm water supply, it may refer the application to an outside consultant for a detailed review, at the utility's expenses.

Somewhat less restrictive provisions apply to class II land. DPH cannot grant a permit for a transaction involving class II land or a change of its use unless the utility demonstrates that its proposal will not significantly harm the purity and adequacy of water supply and that any use restriction DPH imposes can be enforced against subsequent owners, lessees, and assignees. In considering the impact on water supply, DPH is not bound by its precedent.

In the case of the sale, lease, or transfer of land, DPH can only grant a permit if (1) the class II land is part of a larger parcel that includes class III land and (2) there are use restrictions that will prevent the class II land from being developed. In cases involving transactions with another water utility, municipality, or a land conservation organization, DPH can only grant a permit if there is a permanent conservation easement on the land. The easement must preserve the land in perpetuity, with most of it remaining in its natural condition. The easement must protect natural resources and water supply, while allowing for appropriate recreational uses and the development of improvements needed to provide for or protect water supply. The land cannot be developed for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes, or for specified recreational purposes such as golf courses. This last condition does not apply to class II land needed to provide access to class III land that is part of a sale. It appears that this exception applies only if the land is sold to an entity other than a water utility, municipality, or a land conservation organization.

In approving class II land transactions, DPH can subject the permit to conditions or restrictions it considers necessary to safeguard water supply. In doing so, DPH must consider the potential the proposal has for contaminating the water supply, the disturbance of vegetation, the utility's future ability to control the land through devices such as easements or use restrictions, and several other factors

DPH also can reclassify Class I or II land if it determines that the land no longer meets the statutory criteria because of the abandonment of a water supply source or a physical change in the watershed boundary.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Environment Committee

Joint Favorable Report

Yea

22

Nay

5