‘Stream flow’ rules rejected by committee again

Rules that would govern the amount of water reservoir owners must release downstream and how much can be retained for human use were rejected for a second time on Tuesday on the grounds that they need more work.

The legislature’s Regulations Review Committee voted 10-2 to reject the “stream flow” rules, which were the second version the state Department of Environmental Protection had proposed, as required by a 2005 law.

At the committee’s meeting, DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella and two staff members made a pitch for the changes they’d made since the committee voted against the rules in October. Besides removing any controls on wells and other ground water sources, they had made some concessions to water companies and commercial water users to allow more water to remain above certain dams during winter and early spring.

But representatives of business, and water companies in particular, weren’t satisfied, and most committee members agreed.

“You have made great progress, but you are not there yet,” said the committee co-chair, state Sen. Joan V. Hartley, D-Waterbury. “You need more time.”

But the other co-chairman, state Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull, disagreed. “We need to pass these regulations and be part of the solution,” he said.

One major objection to the rules was the DEP’s plans for classifying rivers and streams. The regulations put different requirements on reservoirs depending on the classification of downstream waterways, which could range from “1” for natural, unspoiled rivers and streams to “4” for industrial “working waterways.” Committee members said reservoir owners should know in advance how their waterways would be classified so they could calculate the impact of the regulations.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association agreed. “It’s not clear the state needs to use a classification system for every single river and stream,” its associate counsel, Eric Brown, said before the vote.

But his group’s greater quibble was with the 2005 law calling for these rules because of the “great differences of opinion” on how much authority the DEP ought to have. Even with the ground water issue set aside for now, its roots in the dispute between the city of Waterbury’s reservoirs and neighboring Washington made the matter of DEP’s authority unclear, he said.

But Robert LaFrance of the DEP’s legislative affairs office said that because the legislative commissioner’s office had recommended passage of the new stream flow rules, they were sound from a legal perspective. “We need to get back with the stakeholders, and that includes a whole variety of them, and find out what the next steps are going to be,” he said, adding, “We still have a statutory mandate to do certain things.”

David Sutherland, who worked on the regulations with many groups as head of government relations for the Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut chapter, said that he thought the water classification system was fair. Most public water supply rivers would have been classified either “3” or “4.”

Elizabeth Gara, who lobbies for the trade organization the Connecticut Water Works, said the group was relieved that the regulations failed. “I think no one disagrees that we need to supply water for both aquatic and human needs,” she said, adding, “We were very close to a middle ground” with the DEP on holding back more water during the winter and spring but that the department had not incorporated their requests.

LaFrance said the DEP had tried to compromise. “The agency worked very hard to try to come up with a compromise that everyone could live with. But we were a little short,” he said. “Our hope is that is all that it is — a little short. In order to move forward, I think we need to go back and talk to those folks and find out what we didn’t get right.”