Planning and Development Committee
JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING RESIDENTIAL WATER RATES, PUBLIC DRINKING WATER SUPPLY EMERGENCIES AND SELLERS OF BOTTLED WATER.
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Committee on Planning and Development:
REASONS FOR BILL:
This legislation is designed to prioritize residential consumer water sales and the public drinking water supplies in the event of a state water emergency. This is intentioned as a way to protect citizens from the exploitation of water, a vital resource, from corporate interest. Other states have experienced significant droughts in the last several years. This has drawn concern from local CT residents to place a greater emphasis on this resources protection. California was listed as an example of a state experiencing severe drought, still allow industrial water bottlers to pump millions of gallons out of the state, meanwhile residents are forced to pay fines for over usage.
The Bill will also require that commercial and industrial users pay the same water and sewer rates as residential consumers. This portion of the bill is to ensure that the residents are not paying to subsidize an industry through discounted rates from a quasi-public agency which relies on taxpayer's money for infrastructure improvements.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Commissioner Pino, (Depart of Public Health):
The Department of Public Health is opposed to the language presented in SB 422. They stated concerns because the bill assigned DPH the tasks of regulating the water supply industry, which is something the Department is not prepared to do. They also oppose the prioritizing of resident consumers over other water recipients. They stated that there are several industries including hospitals and urgent care facilities that would be affected by prioritizing residential use. DPH does not agree that industry should take a back seat to the needs for the public to wash their car or water lawns.
Commissioner Pino also pointed out in written testimony that DPH performs no oversight for rate charges for sewer or water usage. Instead he recommends that that responsibility would be better performed by the Department of Consumer protection.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Representative David Baram, 15th Assembly District:
Representative Baram submitted support for SB 422. He stated that he and Senator Bye submitted the proposal raised by the committee on Planning and Development because they both felt, in light of the issue raised by the citizen of Bloomfield and surrounding towns, that the state's water laws needed to be revised. So that in drought emergencies CT's water resources would be better managed and prioritized.
Ben Martin (350 CT):
Ben Martin on behalf of 350 CT submitted testimony in favor of SB 422. He stated that this bill is good because it would discourage bottling companies from coming to CT. He listed these reasons for why they should be discouraged from opening shop in CT.
- The United Nations lists water as a human right and it should be held in the public trust.
- Once bottling companies get access to water rights it's hard to restrict what they take.
- Creating bottled water contributes to climate change.
Sheri Slobin Shea:
Sheri Slobin Shea submitted testimony in support of SB 422 with revisions. She stated that the placement of a water bottling plant of this size would affect the whole state's water supply.
Councilman Wildaliz Bermudez, City of Hartford:
Councilman Bermudez stated support of SB 422. She stated in written testimony that the Hartford City Council was not informed to the Niagra water bottling deal in Bloomfield. As a MDC member municipality, she felt that the City of Hartford should have been notified before an issuance of such a deal should have been made.
The city council was not made aware of the deal until upset Bloomfield residents came forward during a meeting of the city's environment committee. She further stated that an industry such as the water bottling industry should not take priority over the resident consumers.
Amanda I. Sedor:
Ms. Sedor stated support for SB 422. She made it clear that should DPH declare a drought emergency, then water bottling should cease. She also stated that she disagreed with the subsidizing of an industry and would like to see the reduced sewer rate charge repealed.
Ann Marie Kimmett:
Ann Marie Kimmett stated testimony in favor or SB 422. She stated in written testimony that the Niagra bottling company “are essentially being given a discount to overuse our water and pollute our environment. We have all tried harder to conserve our water, and as reported by the MDC we have.” She asked the question “Why is Niagra going to be given an incentive to use more?”
Ayse Ozkaya submitted testimony in support of SB 422. She stated that the contract Niagra, Bloomfield, and the MDC are prepared to sign would prohibit Bloomfield from trying to restrict water usage to Niagra in times of drought. This contract leaves the both the town of Bloomfield and thus the taxpayers open to litigation against them, should a devastating drought event hit Connecticut. Ayse stated that Niagra has sued local municipalities for this type of contract violation before. She stated that this type of industry does not simply use water. It extracts water that is to say if a resident uses water the water is put back into the system after it is taken to the water treatment plant. However, Niagra takes water and ships it out of state thus relieving Connecticut of this resource.
Ms. Ozkaya made several statements about how a contract was negotiated by the town of Bloomfield and Niagra. She stated this process intentionally deceptive to the residents. She stated that building of a Bottling plant would not be in the best interest of CT, or the Bloomfield residents.
Mary Pelletier, Director of Park Watershed:
Mary Pelletier with The Park Watershed submitted testimony in favor of SB 422. In their testimony they refer to the cavalier manor in which the MDC has treated climate change. They refer to a city of Cambridge climate study which shows an increase in above 90 and 100 degree days in the near future with approximately 20 days in a year reaching these temperatures by 2030 following current trends.
Mary Pelletier stated while CT is blessed with an abundance of rain per year these periods of rainfall are being punctuated by longer periods of drought, putting the state's water resources at risk. Mary refers to the statistical data being used by the MDC as first appearing in 1967 and a study of MDC's water resources have not been updated.
Mary Pelletier stated from personal experience that the she served on the MDC Citizen Action Council (CAC) for several years. During that time she attempted to convince the MDC to invest in Green infrastructure as a mechanism to boost jobs in their operating district, as well as a way to further protect CT's water resources (and their own). She stated that she was unsuccessful with this goal despite EPA support and job growth benefits from this industry sector. She stated the rapid expansion of federal moneys allocated to the MDC through the Clean Water Fund should have allowed the MDC to invest in infrastructure jobs here in Connecticut. Instead, she stated that the money goes to Massachusetts and Rhode Island based firms. While Ms. Pelletier admits there is a pragmatic reason for this she stated that MDC has made no effort to incorporate CT positions and has not engaged in the building up of local engineering or construction jobs.
Mary Pelletier stated that the MDC CAC meetings abruptly ended two years ago former committee members no longer receive emails and there was no email notifications to those members when a public hearing to approve the sewer rate discount was conducted. She stated that most of the oversite mechanisms for the authority have either been eliminated or have declined due to waning state funds to the CT DEEP.
Mary Pelletier stated the purpose of her organization is to “improve the water quality and ecosystem health of water courses and water bodies that enhance neighborhood character even within high-density urban development.” She stated the focus of this work is usually concentrated on the investment of green infrastructure in urban and suburban areas that receive, filter and recharge stream flow.
Bob & Marcia Hall:
Bob and Marcia Hall submitted testimony in support of SB 422. They pointed out that if MDC was actually in need of a new customer the UConn Storrs campus was in need a few years ago of water resources, but MDC did not attempt to service the Storrs campus.
Mayor Joan Gamble Town of Bloomfield:
Mayor Gamble submitted testimony in favor of SB 422. He stated that the issue of transparency that arose in his town could be mitigated by this bill. It provides a method to address, many issues put forward by the residents of Bloomfield and other area towns from happening again.
Carole Mulready submitted testimony in support of SB 422. She stated that she has been a resident of West Hartford and thus a customer of the MDC for several years. She said she remembers the years when people were being asked to conserve water (although these concerns have not come in recent years), she stated that water rates have risen incrementally over the years. She sees no reason why the payers that helped build the system are not the ones getting a discount but rather an out of state for profit company that are likely to make millions off of a CT public resource.
Councilman Chris Williams, Town of West Hartford:
Councilman Williams submitted testimony in favor of SB 422. He stated that at first glance the MDC Niagra deal is blatantly unfair. Niagra gets to use vast sums of water at a discount while they can then turn around and sell the water back to the consumer at an extremely elevated premium meanwhile the resident consumer have built and will continue to pay for the maintenance of MDC's infrastructure.
Councilman Williams further states that he would like to see provisions that would require member towns to be invited to testify in a public hear for projects such as this. He stated the City of West Hartford was not notified and was not given the opportunity to comment on a rate reprieve for businesses. He suggested letter be sent out to all member town executive officials, town managers, selectman, and mayors.
Mr. Doucot stated testimony in support of SB 422. He wrote that the Romans discovered that gravity is the best transportation method for water. When you transport water on trucks that burn diesel it is both a waste of resources but also a needless pollutant.
Christopher La Forte:
Mr. La Forte submitted testimony in support of SB 422. He stated that he felt that a township that is a member of a cooperative such as the MDC should not be allowed to sell their portion of a pooled resource. He stated that a provision should be added to make such actions illegal for other town cooperatives not just for water cooperatives.
Louis Burch Citizens Campaign for the Envirionment (CCE):
The CCE submitted testimony in support of SB 422. The CCE points out that the MDC amended their sewer rate structure to allow for “large users” to pay a discounted rate. The rate by their calculations could only apply to Niagra bottling company.
The CCE stated that under current law the Dept of Public Health enacts a 25% water use reduction to residential users in drought situations while private industry can continue to use water at the same rate. A bottling plant like this would allow the use of large amounts of water in a drought situation, while residents would continue to pay increased rates as well as possible fines for over usage.
Anne B. Hulick, State Director Clean Water Action CT:
The Clean Water Action CT submitted testimony in favor of SB 422. They stated that their initial involvement in the issue after several Bloomfield residents contacted them. They learned that without an environmental review of Niagra's proposed facility, or a study of the environmental impacts that could result from extraction of water, Niagra could still legally acquire tax abatements.
Clean Water Action CT also learned that state environmental reviews for such proposals are handled by DEEP, the DPH, the MDC, and other agencies without a clear portal of public information on the ground rules of the review process. Clean Water Action CT would like this bill to be a vehicle for more oversight of the MDC, which should include the reformation of the MDC Citizen Advisory Committee.
Margaret Miner, Executive Director, Rivers Alliance of CT:
Margaret Miner on behalf of the Rivers Alliance CT submitted testimony in support of SB 422. She stated that current CT water policy statutes are extremely muddled and outdated. She referred to the impending CT water plan which is likely to be finished at the beginning of 2018. She states that while that plan will likely be more comprehensive this legislation would begin to clarify in state statute that essential residential consumption should take precedence over commercial use.
She further stated that the set rate pricing model displayed in the MDC/Niagra contract did not reflect good conservation practices. She stated there is also great confusion regarding the statutes that regulate water pricing. This is likely because there are three different types of water suppliers in the state: municipal, regional, and private. She stated the state as a whole should explore conservation pricing which other suppliers in the state have found to be economically viable.
David Mann Bloomfield, Inland Wetlands Commission and the Conservation Energy and Environment Committee:
David Mann submitted testimony in favor of SB 422. He stated that the deals such as this one between MDC, Niagra, and Bloomfield are the result of the recent economic downturn. He stated that this is an example of a major corporation taking advantage of two municipalities that are engaged in crisis management. They are currently willing to engage in an agreement which is incredibly extractive with little to gain except a handful of low-paying jobs; meanwhile the whole arrangement is being framed as economic development.
He further argued that Niagra would be supplementing the water supplied by the MDC with private water rights from local wells. This would put the whole water table at risk because Niagra would have no restriction on this water even in drought circumstances and with the MDC only restricting their water allocation when capacity reaches 10%, at that point it may be too late for the region.
Other Sources Of Support:
Allison O'Neil Ferraro
Barbara Steele 2
Barbara Steele 3
Booker T DeVaughn
Carolyn & Leslie Gabel-Brett
Carolyn Sorkin Ph.D.
Catherine & Gregory Weaver
Councilman Bernard Petkis Town of Windsor
CT Fund for the Enviorment & Save the Sound
Hope Shiyrah Suplita
Jane Zande & Jeff Smith
Jeanne S Duggan
John & Peggy Agar
Joshua & Meredith Davidson
Judith Lanz Sedor (Newgate Farms)
Keith Ainsworth, Esq., LLC
Kevin Gough & Paula Jones
Lain & Linda Howard-Sorrell
Lori Brown CT League of Conservation Voters
Mark Drusedum & Molly Knorr
Mary Lee Morrison
Patricia E. Kelly
Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree
Richard & Ruby Beverly
Robert & Debra Bologna
Sally Westcott RN
Save Our Water CT
Seamus & Lorraine Donagher
Sheryll Bedingfield LMFT
Sister Mary Rouleau CSJ
Sister Patricia Colla
Susan Van Kleef
Valerie Rossetti M.D.
Verna W Davis
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
The Metropolitan District Commission:
The metropolitan District submitted written and verbal testimony in opposition to SB 422. They stated that as CT chartered Quasi-public Corporation they are not allowed to profit from their sale of water or sewer fees. They sell their water at cost which currently stands at $2.66 per 746 gallons.
Derieth L Sutton Director of Economic Development & Government Relations
Niagra Bottling Company:
The Niagra Bottling Company submitted testimony in opposition to SB 422. They stated opposition individually to all three sections of the bill.
Section 1. Bottled water is a safe, healthy, and is the best water source when either tap water or consumer health is compromised. SB-422 would seek to prioritize the sale of water to residential customers, during a public drinking water supply emergency, without regard for the nature of the usage. The bill fails to differentiate between non-essential uses during a public drinking water supply emergency and essential uses. Furthermore “bottled water companies are uniquely suited and qualified to provide clean and safe drinking water in emergency situations; especially when local or municipal treatment systems might otherwise be compromised.”
Section 2. It is important for a community to utilize their resources in a way that reduces wasteful practices. Niagra's industry supports a resource efficient method of consuming drinking water. This section unfairly targets an industry which serves the public in times of need, while not considering the other industries that have a wasteful approach to the same resource. The money provided to municipal water systems by bottling companies often allows these authorities to upgrade systems or utilize new sources of water to expand their operational capacity.
Section 3.They stated that a flat rate charge for sewer would not take into account how the system was actually being utilized. While the purpose of this section of the bill was implemented because residents felt that Niagra would be putting enormous stress on the sewer system and paying a discounted rate. Niagra stated that this in fact not true because their water usage is a great deal more efficient than residential water usage. Most of the water going into the Niagra plant does not leave via the sewers. Unlike home or other industrial users where the majority of the water which goes in goes back out to the sewer system.
International Bottled Water Association(IBWA) & Northeast Bottled Water Association (NEBWA):
Submitted testimony in opposition to SB 422.They stated that this bill unfairly targets the water bottling industry. They claim water bottlers waste less water in the bottling process than other beverage industries such as soda or alcohol. They stated that the water bottling industry has an obvious and necessary self interest in water conservation. Without water they would have no industry. Furthermore bottled water is vitally needed in the event of natural disasters. They point to Flint Michigan, to which the CT bottling industry is currently supplying drinking water.
Elizabeth Gara (CT Water Works Association):
The CT water works Association submitted testimony in opposition SB 422.
The listed the reasoning for their opposition section by section.
Section 1. They state would prioritize residential water use over commercial, they stated that many businesses and other organizations rely on water to maintain operation. In the event of a drought, these business need to retain water usage to continue employment. Under some circumstances, these restrictions put public safety at risk in terms of restricting water to hospital or nursing homes.
Section 2. The Connecticut water works stated that there are a variety of rate structure classes based on numerous principles such as capital production by a business and operation needs. This section would remove the flexibility a water provider would have to set their own rates. They state while this may seem innocuous, it creates a slippery slope where the state government can pick and choose the rates to be implemented on a specific industry, should that industry become unpopular.
They finish by stating that existing state and federal laws stringently regulate the distribution of drinking water. Furthermore these laws already adequately protect the public interest.
Allen Hoffman Former State representative:
Mr. Hoffman stated testimony in opposition to SB 422. He stated that the MDC has done an excellent job in the past to deliver efficient regional services. He also stated that the bill has an unintentional economic impact by creating an anti-business policy.
Suzanne Bates (Yankee Institute):
The Yankee Institute submitted testimony in opposition to SB 422. They stated that this is a top-down solution to a local municipal issue. Furthermore the solution presented in this bill is anti-business.
Reported by: Wade Packer