DOAG: Water Planning and Management Essential to Connecticut Agriculture

This article appeared in the January 31, 2014 edition of the Ag Report.
 
 

Water Planning and Management Essential to Connecticut Agriculture

Stephen Anderson, Office of the Commissioner

 

Water is an essential resource to agriculture, the environment, and all residents.  Protection and careful management of this resource is paramount. 

 

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture participates in statewide water planning efforts, working with representatives from state and federal agencies, water authorities, business and industry, and representatives of environmental groups, serving on two work groups of the state’s Water Planning Council (WPC).

 

Created through Public Act 01-177, the WPC comprises commissioners or their designees from the departments of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Public Health (DPH), and Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA), along with the secretary or designee from the Office of Policy and Management. 

 

The council exists to “address issues involving the water companies, water resources and state policies regarding the future of the state’s drinking water supply” and to “identify issues and strategies which bridge the gap between the water supply planning process and water resources management in order that water can be appropriately allocated to balance competing needs while protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people of Connecticut and minimizing adverse economic and environmental effects.” 

 

The WPC’s Water Planning Council Advisory Group (WPCAG) was created in 2007 through Public Act 07-4 to assist the WPC in researching and analyzing water industry issues.  Per state statute, the WPCAG should balance consumptive and non-consumptive interests, and include representatives from the following:

1. Regional and municipal water utilities.

2. Investor-owned water utilities.

3. A wastewater system.

4. Agricultural interests.

5. Electric power generation interests.

6. Business and industry interests.

7. Environmental land protection interests.

8. Environmental river protection interests.

9. Boating interests.

10. Fisheries interests.

11. Recreational interests.

12. endangered species protection interests.

13. Members of academia with expertise in stream flow, public health and ecology.

 

The Connecticut Farm Bureau Association currently represents agricultural interests on the WPCAG, while the Connecticut Department of Agriculture serves on both the Water Company Lands and the Drought Plan/Model Water Use Ordinance work groups of the WPCAG, and regularly attends WPC and WPCAG meetings. 

 

The Water Company Lands workgroup is charged with review and determination of the adequacy of current statutory/regulatory provisions to protect public water supplies and maintain Class I and II water company lands.

 

From an agricultural standpoint, of most interest on this group right now is DPH’s work in exploring approaches (legal or policy related) to improve DPH’s ability to protect drinking water watershed lands that are not owned by a water company.

 

The Drought Plan/Model Water Use Ordinance work group was established to explore changes to the model water use ordinance, as well as to undertake necessary changes in revising the State of Connecticut’s Drought Preparedness and Response Plan, last revised in 2003. 

 

The priorities identified for update by the WPCAG included the following, as summarized in the WPC’s 2013 annual report:

1. Improve criteria for drought declarations to be more responsive to the most critical factors and to regional variations.

2. Incorporate private wells into the state’s drought plan.

3. Better define roles of state agencies, municipalities and water utilities in the drought plan and develop mechanisms to foster better coordination.

4. Better define roles of various agencies in the implementation and enforcement of water use restrictions.     

 

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture also holds a seat on the Interagency Drought work group, chaired by the Undersecretary David LeVasseur from the Office of Policy and Management. 

 

This group is made up of several state and federal agency representatives and meets periodically, especially during periods when there is potential for drought.  Members review data and discuss conditions related to drought.  When necessary, the group develops a statewide action plan for responding to drought conditions.

 

This year, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture also attended the following water planning events:

  • A water summit hosted by State Representative John Hampton, in which dozens of stakeholders discussed development of a statewide water plan.
  • Connecticut’s first Source Water Collaborative event to introduce those interested in protecting drinking water sources to collaborative techniques for working toward that goal.
  • DEEP’s Nonpoint Source Phosphorous work group concerning the implementation of Public Act 12-155. 

Connecticut’s agricultural producers are in a unique position regarding these statewide water-planning efforts. 

 

The quality of water from lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, as well as that of groundwater wells, can significantly affect the health of agricultural crops, while at the same time, management decisions made by agricultural producers can have a significant effect on water quality and availability. 

 

Connecticut’s small geographic size, limited water supply, and strong demand for locally grown agricultural products make water conservation a necessity.

 

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offers a number of financial and technical resources to eligible landowners to assist with sustainable farm management.  Some of those related to water management include the following:

· Field to Faucet fact sheet:  http://www.fieldtofaucet.org/AgFieldtoFaucet-BR-v3f.pdf

· Field to Faucet checklist:  http://www.fieldtofaucet.org/SWC-AgFieldtoFaucet-Insert-v3d.pdf

· NRCS technical assistance: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial).

 

Additional resources from federal agency partners include

EPA’s flyer on runoff: 
http://www.epa.gov/owow/nps/Ag_Runoff_Fact_Sheet.pdf,
and information from the CDC on agricultural water use:
 
http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/other/resources-agricultural.html.

 

For more information about Connecticut’s water planning efforts, please see http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2720&q=325644&deepNav_GID=1654.