"A watershed forest is the first line of defense for maintaining high quality drinking water."
The Metropolitan District (MDC), Hartford Connecticut
What is a watershed?
Every lake, river and stream has a watershed. The watershed is the sloped land that surrounds and drains or 'sheds' water into a particular waterbody.
For example, Shuttle Meadow Reservoir, the large blue lake in the photo to the left, is a major source of drinking water in New Britain. Its watershed land is located in four towns: Southington, New Britain, Plainville, and Berlin CT.
Within natural landscapes, watersheds are complex interconnecting networks of soils, plants, water, and atmospheric systems that filter and clean the water as it passes through. The healthier a watershed = the healthier the waterbody.
Concrete and asphalt pavement in watersheds cause rainwater to move quickly and to chemicals and pesticides that directly pollute water. And the opposite is true. Forested land is a filtration system for our clean drinking water.
If 131 acres of forest are removed from the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir through quarrying, the land will be a hardscape of paved rock quarry. The land will lose its natural filtration system. It fact it will permanently remove this land from the watershed. Less water and less clean water will supply Shuttle Meadow Reservoir.
FACT: Watershed boundaries don't match our town boundaries, so towns have to work together to share + care for these natural resources.
WHAT ARE WATERSHED LAWS IN CONNECTICUT?
By law, class I and II water company land is protected and preserved to safeguard the state's water resources. Current law severely restricts transactions involving class I and limits transactions for class II land. These are lands located closest to water supply sources and require a Department of Public Health (DPH) permit to transfer or change their use. This requirement does not apply to class III land, which is land outside the watershed and more than 150 feet from a reservoir or stream that feeds it.
All water company land (whether private or publicly owned) falls under the three-tier classification system. Additional provisions regulate transfers of any unimproved land owned by a private water company. The law gives the state, municipalities, and land conservation organizations first refusal rights with regard to such land. The Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) is responsible for allocating, between shareholders and ratepayers, the proceeds of such transactions. This allocation must favor the preservation of open space.
WATER COMPANY LAND CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM
By law, all land owned by a water company or acquired from it through an involuntary transfer falls into three classes. Class I includes watershed land nearest to water supply sources, (e.g., within 250 feet of a reservoir, 200 feet of a well, or 100 feet of a watercourse). It also includes certain environmentally sensitive lands, such as those that are steeply sloped or where bedrock is less than 20 inches from the soil surface. Class II land is (1) on the public drinking supply watershed but not included in class I and (2) completely off the watershed but within 150 feet of a reservoir or a major stream that runs into it. Class III consists of the rest of the company's land. DPH regulations establish criteria and performance standards for the three classes (CGS § 25-37c).
DPH can reclassify Class I or II land only if it determines that the land no longer meets the statutory criteria due to the abandonment of a water supply source or a physical change in the watershed boundary. A DPH permit is required to abandon a water supply source. A company seeking to sell an abandoned, current, or potential water supply source must first offer it to other water companies (CGS § 25-32, 33k and l).
LAND TRANSACTIONS AND CHANGES OF USE
The law requires a water company to obtain a DPH permit to (1) sell, lease, assign, or otherwise dispose of Class I or Class II land or (2) change the use of such land except under limited circumstances related to recreational uses (CGS § 25-32). The permitting requirements do not apply to Class III land.
The law severely restricts transactions involving Class I land. The company cannot lease or assign such land and can only sell it to the state, a municipality, or another water company. The buyer must agree to maintain the land subject to the restrictions in the law and those imposed by the DPH permit. The buyer cannot sell, lease, assign, or change the use of the land without a permit.
In addition, the company can change the land's use only if it demonstrates that the change (1) will not harm the purity and adequacy of water supply, now or in the future and (2) is consistent with a DPH-approved water supply plan filed by the company. If DPH believes the proposal may significantly harm the water supply, it may refer the application to an outside consultant for a detailed review, at the company's expense (CGS § 25-37d).
Somewhat less restrictive provisions apply to class II land. DPH can grant a permit for a transaction involving class II land or a change of its use if the company demonstrates that its proposal will not significantly harm the purity and adequacy of water supply and that any use restriction DPH imposes can be enforced against subsequent owners, lessees, and assignees. In considering the impact on water supply, DPH considers each case individually and is not bound by its precedents.
In the case of the sale, lease, or transfer of land, DPH can grant a permit only if (1) the class II land is part of a larger parcel that includes class III land and (2) use restrictions will prevent the class II land from being developed. When a transaction is with another water company, municipality, or a land conservation organization, DPH can grant a permit only if there is a permanent conservation easement on the land. The easement must preserve the land in perpetuity, with most of it remaining in its natural condition. The easement must protect natural resources and water supply, while allowing for appropriate recreational uses and the development of improvements needed to provide for or protect the water supply. The land cannot be developed for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes, or for specified recreational purposes such as golf courses. Starting January 1, 2003, this last condition applies to all transactions, except for class II land needed to provide access to class III land that is part of a sale. It appears that this exception applies only if the land is sold to an entity other than a water company, municipality, or a land conservation organization.
In approving class II land transactions, DPH can subject the permit to conditions or restrictions it considers necessary to safeguard the water supply. In doing so, DPH must consider the potential the proposal has for contaminating the water supply or disturbing vegetation, the company's future ability to control the land through devices such as easements or use restrictions, and several other factors. Pending legislation, sSB 535, An Act Concerning Existing Dwelling Houses on Class II Land, allows the sale or assignment (under certain conditions, including consideration of the water supply) of existing single-family residences on class II water company lands that are not part of a larger parcel that contains class III land. The bill subjects sold property to restrictive covenants that limit expansion of the existing structure and restricts future activities that would significantly adversely affect the public water supply.