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The Senate voted 24-11 Tuesday in favor of a bill that prioritizes residential water customers over commercial bottling companies during a drought.

The bill, SB 422, now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote.

The amended bill was proposed by Sen. Beth Bye, D- West Hartford, Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Hartford, Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, and Rep. Tami Zawistowski, R- East Granby.

Bye originally proposed legislation because she was concerned about a regional water authority’s decision to sell its water at a discounted rate to Niagara Bottling Co., which plans to bottle and sell the water.

Bye said she acted in response to public concerns about the water company’s plans to build a water bottling plant in Bloomfield and withdraw up to 2 million gallons of water per day from Metropolitan District Commission water sources at prices lower than other MDC residents’ pay.

The bill requires the state water plan to make recommendations about water rates charged to commercial water bottlers in Connecticut; requires each water company in the state to recognize and implement uniform drought metrics and comply with all water restrictions ordered by the state Department of Public health during a declared public drinking water supply emergency.

Additionally, Bye added, the bill requires the Public Health department — during a public drinking water supply emergency — to prioritize the sale of water to residential customers over commercial water bottling companies selling their products out of state.

The bill also prohibits any person or municipality, after June 1, 2017, from diverting more than 500,000 gallons of water per day for the sale or bottling of water — including any water that was previously registered as a diversion — without first obtaining a permit from the state Public Health department.

“Scores of citizens approached me months ago with concerns about who controls our water here in Connecticut, why some commercial water bottling companies have price advantages over those MDC residents who helped improve and pay for the MDC infrastructure, and also with concerns about the availability of water in a drought,” Bye said.

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who voted in favor of the bill, said she was concerned that a “large amount of water is being gathered in our state and then is being sent out of our state” by bottling companies concerned only about profits.

But Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, who voted against the bill, said he felt the legislation would have a “chilling effect” on business thinking about setting up shop in Connecticut.

Christine Stuart photo
“As we well know, there aren’t a lot of businesses that want to locate here currently,” Fonfara said Tuesday. “There is a great abundance of water available for everyone’s use. That’s a reality that has to be put on the table . . . The more water we sell, the less everyone else has to pay in the state of Connecticut.”

Fonfara was joined in his opposition by Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, who said he felt bottling plants were being “singled out” by the legislation.

Last week the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee also approved another bill to make the local tax abatement process for developers more transparent, an action that also rose out of the Niagara deal.

Bloomfield residents and residents from the eight towns served by the MDC complained about the lack of transparency regarding both the tax abatement and the discounted water rate.

Bloomfield resident Rickford Kirton, an outspoken critic of the Niagara deal, said the bill doesn’t do everything he wanted. Kirton is aligned with a group of Bloomfield residents who organized to fight against the town’s decision to bring Niagara to Bloomfield.

“They’re taking our water out of the state and selling it for a profit,” Kirton said.

However, he appreciated that the Senate bill would force the California water company to jump through a few more hoops to get all the necessary permits. He said he worries that even though there’s no water shortage now, there could be in the future.