The University of Connecticut and the town of Mansfield need water. The issue they are facing is where that water will come from. One option under consideration could divert as much as 1.93 million gallons of water away from the Farmington River Watershed daily and local officials are concerned about the long-term implications for the Farmington Valley.
In June 2011 the town of Mansfield and UCONN initiated an Environmental Impact Evaluation, prepared by Milone & MacBroom, to determine the best possible resolution to their increasingly diminished water supply.
The initial EIE included 6 proposed alternatives of which two scenarios were deemed feasible alternatives.
The rejected proposals included the construction of new well fields and the replacement of an existing well. The two feasible options would pull water from the same water basin but from points in the southern part of the state.
In the spring of 2012 a new proposal was added to the EIE. The Metropolitan District Commission, which supplies water to the greater Hartford region, proposed constructing a new pipeline from Mansfield to the company's existing infrastructure in Manchester, according to the proposal.
Of the two proposed MDC pipeline scenarios, the company's preferred scenario would be a 20-mile pipeline that would cost approximately $38.33 million and would add the potential for a new customer base in the towns of Tolland, Vernon, Mansfield, South Windsor, and Coventry, according to the proposal.
A letter sent by Margery Winters on behalf of the Simsbury Conservation Commission to the University of Conn. Office of Environmental Policy on Dec. 4, 2012 argues against the diversion of water from the Farmington River basin.
"We do not think that one can easily make the assumption that diverting 1.93 million gallons per day (and likely more in subsequent years) would not have a material adverse environmental impact on the river's habitat and recreational values," Winters wrote.
Eileen Fielding, executive director of the Farmington River Watershed Association, clarified that the proposed diversion would not be a direct drain on the Farmington River but rather a drain on the watershed as a whole. There would not be any new infrastructure added in the Farmington Valley.
"We want people to be concerned and there's a reason to be concerned," Fielding said. "But this is a long term concern."
Fielding said the proposed diversion would run counter to conservation efforts in recent years and could be the first time a pipeline was used to divert water from one water basin to another in the state of Conn.
"That is a can of worms we don't want to open unless we have to," Fielding said.
Fielding said that the initial impact of the diversion may go unnoticed unless the region is faced with a severe drought but the long-term impact could be severe.
"The way we manage flow on the Farmington River may have to change," Fielding said.
The Metropolitan District Commission argues that the project's impact on the environment and water supply will be minimal.
"This alternative meets the project purpose and need to provide a safe, reliable water supply source that that maximizes benefits while minimizing environmental, land use, and other adverse impacts," the EIE Executive Summary said.
Public comment on the EIE is open until Dec. 21, 2012 and a public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday Dec. 11. The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. in Room 146 at the UConn Bishop Center, One Bishop Circle, Storrs, Conn.
Written comments can also be sent until the close of public comment. Comments should be sent to:
Jason M. Coite
University of Connecticut – Office of Environmental Policy
31 LeDoyt Road, U-3055
Storrs, Connecticut 06269
The Farmington River Watershed Association plans to have a petition available on their website in the near future.