Tonight, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT-DEEP) will be holding an information meeting for Wilton residents to learn about the application Aquarion Water Company has filed to divert up to 1 million gallons of water per day from the Norwalk River and the company’s well in Wilton’s Cannondale neighborhood.
The public meeting will take place Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Wilton Library in the Brubeck Room.
Aquarion filed an application in Oct. 2018 with CT-DEEP and the CT Department of Public Health (CT–DPH) to begin pumping water from a well that it dug in Cannondale more than 30 years ago but has never used. The 432-page application is online, and outlines the company’s request to be allowed to divert water via the Cannondale well from both below-ground sources and the Norwalk River in order to supplement and augment the water it currently draws from the Greater Bridgeport System in Fairfield. As the application’s executive summary explains, “it will provide Aquarion Water Company flexibility to more effectively and reliably move water throughout the Greater Bridgeport System and improve drought resiliency.”
At the time GOOD Morning Wilton learned about the application, Aquarion spokesperson Peter Fazekas explained that the company’s request was one that, “made sense” in order to divert water located closer to customers in Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, New Canaan and elsewhere.
“It’s pulling water more locally to those towns versus bringing water from Fairfield all the way to those towns. Currently, our Wilton customers, they’re getting water from Fairfield,” he said.
Town of Wilton officials were surprised by the application, releasing a statement at the time saying they considered the matter “serious.” First selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said at a Board of Selectmen meeting in late October, “This is a great matter of concern, for myself, for the town employees that are involved, for the neighbors, residents and community. Town staff and town counsel, we’re all giving this our full attention, I want everyone to know that. It’s critical that we have a full understanding of the situation.”
Among the immediate steps officials took was to begin working with attorney Stephen Studer, one of the lawyers at Bercham and Moses, the law firm that represents the Town. Studer has significant experience working on behalf of towns that face water utilities looking to divert water from within their borders. In addition, the town engaged engineering and environmental experts who are experienced with the type of application Aquarion has filed. They consulted with town counsel about how to proceed.
Vanderslice said the town also had hired an environmental consultant from Langan Environmental services consulting to evaluate the permit application.
In January 2019, Wilton’s town counsel Ira Bloom told the selectmen that DEEP had notified Aquarion that their application was determined to be incomplete and requested Aquarion submit additional information. Because it was such a significant amount of information the utility still had to provide, Bloom said, the “assumption is that will take weeks or months for Aquarion to finish that up.”
Since Aquarion’s permit application came to light, several local environmental organizations have expressed their concern about the plan as well, including the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission and the Norwalk River Watershed Association (NRWA), which submitted a long series of questions to DEEP on the matter as well as a document outlining current Norwalk River water quality degradation and overuse–and stating why the association opposes any further action from Aquarion, which “will exacerbate these problems.”
“Though water quality in the Norwalk River is improving because of the hard work of stakeholders, the river is impaired, and should not be made worse absent acute need.
“We are concerned that Aquarion’s plan to activate the Cannondale well will further impair water quality in the Norwalk River and Norwalk Harbor. As the Norwalk River Watershed Action Plan states, the Watershed has been identified as ‘an important resource in which water quality improvements could provide benefits to LIS and the community.’ For this reason, in 2016 the watershed was also listed by CT DEEP as an area of special focus and targeted for improvements.
“In addition to being impaired, the river is already over-allocated as it receives effluent from four wastewater treatment plants, discharges from industry and golf courses, storm-water runoff from the heavily developed Route 7 business and transit corridor, as well as sediment, debris and contaminants from construction going on at several sites, including the major Walk Bridge, I95 Bridge, and Rt.7/Rt.15 Interchange constructions. The river also provides drinking water through the reservoirs it feeds, an SNEW diversion from the Comstock Brook (which regularly drains the brook completely dry and includes a future plan to dam the Brook), the Deering Kellogg wellfield, and water supply to industries and businesses along its banks.”
Wilton’s Consultant Report:
After reviewing Aquarion’s application, the Langan consultant, Brian Blum, submitted a report to town officials in early February. Among his findings:
- Langan believes that “the Permit Application is deficient in certain respects, several of which are key to a proper assessment of potential impacts to other users of groundwater and to the environment.”
- “In order to preclude, or at least minimize, potential harmful impacts to the Norwalk River, and associated wetlands and fauna, Langan recommends that Aquarion agree not to pump under ‘low flow’ conditions.
- Wetland and vernal pools, as well as other natural resources need to be better cataloged and evaluated in the application, including outside the proximal area.
- Additional monitoring that needs to be part of Aquarion’s Mitigation Plan includes the YMCA pond.
- Aquarion’s current Mitigation Plan does not specifically include a formal written report. Langan recommends that Aquarion be required to prepare a written annual report to CT DEEP, with a copy to the town and other stakeholders, at the end of every calendar year, at least for the initial five years of operating the well.