Public Health Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-7221

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING ACCESS TO WATER PLANNING INFORMATION.

Vote Date:

3/24/2017

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/13/2017

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Public Health Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill changes how water company records are treated under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Similar to current law, the bill provides that water company records are exempt from disclosure under FOIA if there are reasonable grounds to believe disclosure may result in a security risk, as determined by a public agency. Whereas current law lists certain categories of water company records that are exempt, the bill specifies a more detailed list. 

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Raul Pino, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Public Health:

The Connecticut Department of Public Health supported the concept of the bill, stating that because they are required to protect sensitive information contained in water supply companies supply plan, they use immense resources to redact parts of the plan that would compromise the company's infrastructure and supply. Dr. Pino said that the bill would streamline the process and ensure that information can be shared with the public in a more efficient manner.

Dr. Pino, on behalf of DPH, made the following three recommendations to the committee:

1) Include language in section 3, to amend section 1-210 (b)(29)(B) of the general statutes, to allow for an exemption in order to permit the disclosure of a water company's drought management and response plan to the public.

2) Include language in section 3, to amend section 1-210 (b)(29)(D) of the general statutes, to clarify the definition of dam safety plans.

3) Amend section 25-32d of the general statutes to require a water company to submit both its water supply plan, and a redacted version of its water supply plan, to the Department of Public Health, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the Office of Policy and Management. Such redacted versions would contain only information that can be disclosed to the public under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. The Department would recommend that the water companies post such redacted plans on their Internet web sites.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Lori Brown, Executive Director, Connecticut League of Conservation Voters:

Ms. Brown supported the bill, saying that the public has a right to know how decisions are being made with regards to water planning. She added that she supports the testimony of Margaret Miner of Rivers Alliance of Connecticut and defers to her with regards to what specifics are needed in the bill.

Margaret Miner, Executive Director, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut:

Ms. Miner supported the bill stating that it would restore reasonable access to the public regarding water company records without compromising security concerns. She added that the bill is a common sense balance between security and public oversight of water.

Colleen M. Murphy, Executive Director and General Counsel, The Freedom of Information Commission:

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission supports this bill. Ms. Murphy said the bill takes an important step in better balancing the obvious need for transparency with the need for security. While the FOI Commission does not typically endorse new exemptions, this bill would eliminate the broad nature of protecting information that exists in current law while still allowing water companies to protect their infrastructure from threats.

Connecticut River Watershed Council:

The Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) testified in support of the bill, stating that the data that is currently protected is critical in the decision making by state leaders, particularly after the passage of PA 14-163 which puts forward a state water plan. The information is also critical in maintaining public trust.

Chris Cryder & Karen Burnaska, Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound:

The Connecticut Fund for the Environment supported the bill saying that allowing public access to some protected data is necessary for water planning. They added that this bill will not compromise security measures.

Melissa Everett, Ph.D., Energy and Sustainability Manager, Clean Water Action Connecticut:

Ms. Everett supported the bill, saying that it presents a necessary approach to sound management of Connecticut's water resources. She said that scrutiny from the public and other experts is critical for good decision making. She also added that the bill balances confidentiality and public access and will support effective policy going forward.

Farmington River Watershed Association, Inc.:

The Farmington Watershed Association testified in support of the bill, saying the current restrictions on information are an unnecessary and unreasonable hindrance to stakeholder participation in water planning. They added that the public has a right to know, and that the release of said information will not pose a security risk.

Elizabeth Gara, Executive Director, The Connecticut Water Works Association (CWWA):

The CWWA testified in support of the bill, saying that they support efforts to identify data gaps but argued that the withholding of information has not been an impediment to the State Water Plan process. They added that they feel the bill fails to include key safety provisions and stated that they are ready to work with the Department. They also added four specific revisions:

1) Insert language in (29) , “including but not limited to architectural and engineering detail and design drawings, and portions of water supply plans submitted pursuant to Section 2-32d)”

2) Add protection for “fire flow testing results”

3) Add protection for “equipment specifications and inventories, condition assessments”

4) Add reference to “associated reports” following distribution system hydraulic models

Martin Mador, Legislative Chair, Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club:

Mr. Mador supported the bill on behalf of the Sierra Club, saying that it is important to make information necessary for statewide water planning available so that the process can move forward.

Valerie Rossetti, M.D., M.P.H., Save Our Water Connecticut:

Ms. Rossetti testified in support of the bill, saying that because water is our most critical public trust resource, access to basic data is essential for planning, analysis and reviews of current plans.

David Sutherland, Director of Government Relations, The Nature Conservancy:

Mr. Sutherland supported the bill, saying that well informed and comprehensive planning is essential to ensure our state has sufficient water. He added that this bill more appropriately balances availability of information with sufficient security.

Louise Washer, President, Norwalk River Watershed Association (NRWA):

The NRWA supported the bill saying that its passage would allow the public to have access to the data needed for water planning. They added that in the face of drought, transparency and sound planning are necessary.

The following people testified in support of the bill, saying that its passage will provide the public with the information needed for water planning:

Sally Rieger

Janet Epstein

Shirley McCarthy, M.D.

James Root

Judy Allen

Ellen Castaldini

Ann Diamond

M. Hope Fish

Kimberly Gilbert

Laurie Gorham

Laura Hayes

Peter Herrmann

Marianne Horn

Elizabeth Kiernan

Jennifer Kleindienst

Charles Leach, M.D.

Carole Osborn

Linda Pagani

Micaela Porta

Judith Saunders

Elizabeth Schmitt

Lisa Stuart

Terri Tibbatts

Susannah Wood

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Regional Water Authority (RWA):

The RWA opposed the bill by stating that they fear the bill will open up the potential for individuals, terrorist organizations and foreign governments to bring harm to water utilities. They added that the bill fails to provide for a process to identify and respond to future threats.

Reported by: Geoff Simpson, Assistant Clerk

Date: 4/3/17