OLR Research Report

November 19, 2007




By: Paul Frisman, Principal Analyst

You asked about state policy to ensure fresh water drinking supplies, and particularly about conservation, desalination, and recycling. You asked about desalination programs in California, Florida, and other states.


By law, water conservation is a water supply planning priority. Specific drinking water policy, described below, is outlined in the state Plan of Conservation and Development.

Four state agencies—the departments of Environmental Protection (DEP), Public Health (DPH), and Public Utility Control (DPUC), and the Office of Policy and Management (OPM)—administer state water resources laws. In 2001, the legislature created a Water Planning Council to coordinate the activities of these four agencies and to address issues involving water utilities, water resources, and future water supply.

Desalination is the process of removing salts from brackish water or seawater to produce drinkable water. In the U.S., California and Florida have made the biggest commitment to desalination plants. We provide some information about those states as well as Texas and Massachusetts. Historically, desalination has not been as attractive an

option in northern states as in the South because northern states have had more abundant water sources and demand has not grown as rapidly.

Some Connecticut sites, such as golf courses, use treated wastewater for purposes that do not involve human contact, such as irrigation. We have attached OLR Reports 2000-R-0666 and 2000-R-0808, which address water recycling, also known as “gray water.” We also attach OLR Reports 2005-R-0820 and 2006-R-0070, which deal with watershed land acquisition and watershed planning in other states.


By law, state water resources goals and policies include:

1. preserving and protecting water supply watershed lands and preventing surface water and groundwater degradation;

2. protecting groundwater recharge areas critical to existing and potential drinking water supplies;

3. making water resources conservation a priority in all decisions;

4. conserving water resources through technology, methods, and procedures designed to promote efficient use of water and to eliminate the waste of water;

5. preventing contamination of water supply sources or reduction in the availability of future water supplies;

6. balancing competing and conflicting needs for water equitably and at a reasonable cost to all citizens; and

7. reducing or eliminating the waste of water through water supply management practices (CGS 22a-380).

DEP administers most water resources and water quality laws, including the Water Diversion Policy Act (CGS 22a-365 through 378), the state's primary water resources planning tool.

DPH ensures the purity and adequacy of the state's drinking water, and reviews water supply plans submitted by water utilities that supply water to 1,000 or more people. By law, these plans must show how the

companies will meet projected water supply demands for five, 20, and 50 year planning periods (CGS 25-32d and Conn. Agency Regs. 25-32d-1 through -6).

DPH also coordinates public water supply system planning to minimize loss and waste. Water Utility Coordinating Committees (WUCCs) located in each water supply management area must include conservation provisions in the water system plans they submit (CGS 25-33c and 25-33h).

DPUC has jurisdiction over private water companies supplying water to 50 or more consumers, and OPM coordinates the state's waters resources policy. The Water Planning Council coordinates the efforts of DEP, DPH, DPUC, and OPM, and addresses water supply issues, including protecting and appropriating water resources while providing public water supply needs, and ensuring the adequacy and quality of drinking water supplies to meet current and future needs (CGS 25-33o). The council, whose members include the heads of the four agencies, has identified 26 areas to address. Its February 1, 2007 report (attached) describes these issues and the progress made.


The plan of conservation and development, revised every five years, provides development, resource management, and public investment policies. OPM uses it as a framework to evaluate plans and proposals submitted to it. The 2005-2010 plan addresses state policy for (1) wetlands, (2) floodplains, (3) floodways (high velocity flows in the 100-year floodplain), (4) lakes, (5) watersheds and rivers, and (6) drinking water supplies. This report describes only the drinking water supply strategies.

General Drinking Water Supplies Policy

The state's goal is to effectively establish and manage sufficient high quality water supply sources, treatment facilities, and delivery systems to meet existing and future needs, and protect them from intensive development and potentially deleterious land uses.

According to the plan, water conservation is an integral part of water supply planning, because it helps protect against water shortages, and lessens the social, environmental and economic costs of developing new supplies. Conservation creates savings in energy, treatment, and capital costs for water and wastewater facilities.

The four components of the drinking water strategy are (1) protecting drinking water sources, (2) identifying new water sources, (3) conserving water, and (4) promoting coordinated and efficient water delivery.

Protecting Drinking Water Sources. The state seeks to:

1. acquire critical water supply watershed and aquifer protection lands;

2. maintain all class I water utility-owned lands (those located closest to supply sources) through DPH regulation, and maintain all similar state-owned lands as open space;

3. prevent state funding of projects on class I land if they do not conform to class I regulations;

4. encourage new land use within existing and potential public water supply watersheds compatible with appropriate preservation and management strategies;

5. maintain inventories and establish monitoring and inspection programs for activities that may threaten or adversely affect drinking water sources (such as the presence of underground storage tanks or pesticide use);

6. continue assessing and protecting drinking water supply sources;

7. evaluate local development plans and zoning regulations to promote measures that protect drinking water supplies;

8. avoid sewage collection systems except where needed to solve an existing problem;

9. continue to bar the disposal of domestic wastewater in existing and possible water supply sources;

10. continue to implement the Aquifer Protection Program;

11. set minimum lot sizes for new dwelling units, and encourage cluster-style developments to reduce the amount of impervious surfaces built;

12. encourage towns to require three-to-five year inspections of septic tanks, and educate the public about proper disposal; and

13. properly manage aquifer protection areas and water supply watersheds.

Identifying New Water Sources. While existing water supply facilities can meet existing, and much of the projected future demand, state water sources are not evenly distributed throughout the state. To identify new sources, the state must:

1. use various plans, assessments, and recommendations to identify surface and groundwaters needed for water supplies;

2. acquire potential well field and reservoir sites and regulate land use to preserve potential sources;

3. manage according to state water quality standards;

4. allocate water resources through DEP's water diversion permit process to give high priority to drinking water supply needs that cannot be met by aggressive conservation efforts, after considering other uses and maximizing multiples uses to the extent feasible;

5. prevent projects that irreversibly commit potential water supply resources to other uses;

6. prevent wastewater discharges to streams that flow to potential public water supplies;

7. restore aquifers where feasible to enable the use of previously contaminated wells for future water supply; and

8. preserve inactive reservoirs that may be needed in the next 50 years.

Water Conservation. Conservation must be made a priority in all water supply planning activities and regulatory decisions. To this end, the state should consider source conservation, demand conservation, increased source and customer metering, pricing policies, education, more rapid repair of leaking pipes, and replacement of water devices with more efficient devices. It should:

1. identify cost effective conservation measures in individual water utility plans and plans of the area WUCC;

2. promote implementation of cost effective conservation measures through agency decisions concerning diversions, water transfers and financial assistance;

3. promote public education that supports water conservation and wise use of surface and groundwater resources; and

4. encourage public water systems to adopt policies for efficient water use metering, water auditing, reduction of unaccounted-for water, and consumer water saving plumbing retrofits.

Promoting Coordinated and Efficient Water Delivery. The state should promote efficient water distribution by:

1. promoting an efficient and viable public water supply and delivery system for each region;

2. using DPH's certificate of public convenience and necessity process to ensure that development of new public water systems will be viable and according to state, regional and local conservation and development plans; and

3. continuing to use funding from the state revolving loan fund to assist troubled but viable water utilities to provide an adequate supply of high quality drinking water.


There are now about 1,200 desalination plants in the U.S., producing more than 300 million gallons a day of water. This represents about one-fifth of the desalination capacity worldwide. California and Florida are the states with the largest commitment to desalination.

Desalination has historically been a less attractive option in northern states because of the relative abundance of water sources and the high energy cost of pumping colder sea water through the desalination plants. According to DPUC's Gerald Iwan, the predominant issue in the northeast states is not the amount of water, but how to allocate it. DEP's Denise Ruzicka notes, however, that desalination may become more prevalent as technology improves and costs drop. She points out that desalination is not restricted to seawater, but can be used for groundwater and drinking water wells. Increased use of such technology may be needed if, as predicted, climate change causes increased salt levels in these water sources.


In 2002, the California legislature established a Desalination Task Force to investigate potential desalination opportunities, barriers to using desalting technology and what role the state should play in advancing its use. California voters have since authorized $50 million in grants for desalting projects.

According to the California Water Plan 2005 Update (, there were 24 desalination plants providing water for municipal purposes. These included 16 groundwater plants, one surface water plant and seven seawater plants, with a total capacity of 70.5 million gallons a day. According to the report there were six new groundwater desalination plants and one plant expansion in the design and construction phase for a total of about 26.3 million gallons a day in new capacity. There were no seawater desalination plants being designed or built.

According to the 2005 report, the major issues confronting desalination include (1) historically high costs (although technological improvements and the rising cost of conventional water supplies have made desalination more competitive with importing water and recycling municipal wastewater); (2) environmental concerns about placing seawater plants in sensitive coastal areas, and (3) the cost of energy use. We have attached a copy of the report's desalination section.

In November 2007, the California Coastal Commission rejected a Connecticut corporation's proposal to build a seawater desalination plant in Carlsbad, California, saying it would cause significant adverse impacts to marine life and water quality. The proposed 50 million gallon a day plant would have been the nation's largest. We have attached a newspaper story about the decision. The commission's full decision is available at this website:

More information about the project can be found on the developer's website:


Tampa Bay, Florida is the site of the largest desalination plant in North America. The $158 million plant opened in 2003, but has been plagued by various problems. It has been producing 25 million gallons a day since October, 2007.

In 2006, the South Florida Water Management District studied the feasibility of co-locating desalination plants with existing electric power plants to take advantage of existing infrastructure. The study found three possible sites with capacities ranging from 10 to 35 million gallons a day. Estimated construction costs ranged from $91.1 million to $275.9 million.

In October, 2007, Florida State Representative Kurt Kelly introduced a bill (HB 199) to have the state study desalination technology and recommend, by June 30, 2009, a plan to implement desalination technologies that are environmentally and fiscally sound.


The Texas Water Code directs the Texas Water Development Board to further the development of cost-effective water supplies from seawater desalination. The Brownsville Public Utilities Board has proposed to build a large-scale demonstration seawater desalination plan by 2010. The project will need a $115 million in state grants and loans to help built the plant. According to “The Future of Desalination in Texas” (, desalination “can no longer be considered a water supply option…only to communities along the Texas Gulf Coast. It must also be considered as an increasingly viable water supply option for major metropolitan areas throughout Texas.”


A Spanish company is building a desalination plant and pipeline, expected to provide more than 4 million gallons a day of potable water, on the Taunton River in Brockton, Massachusetts. Expected to be completed in 2008, it will be the first desalination plant in New England. According to this General Electric Co. website, ( Brockton chose the plant after evaluating various options, including digging more wells, building another reservoir, or buying water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

According to the website, the project team had to acquire more than 40 federal and state permits because of concern from environmentalists and fishermen about the plant's impact. Cost estimates for the project range from $55 million to $70 million. Because the price of desalted seawater will be higher than water from conventional sources, the Boston Globe reports that a Brockton ratepayer can expect to see an increase of between $30 and $50 in his annual water bill.


We have attached information on Florida's reclaimed water strategy (“Water Reuse for Florida”) and highlights of California's water plan. They are also available on-line at and, respectively.

For more on the advantages and disadvantages of desalination, please see “USC Desalination Project to Give Cities Tools They Need to Weigh Pros and Cons,” (; “The Pros and Cons of Reverse Osmosis Desalination,” (; and “Desalination Could Ease Water Scarcity, But It Has Costs,” (attached).