A measure that would hinder a plan to sell discounted water to a private bottler in Bloomfield may never reach the House floor before the session ends next week.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” said state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford. But, she said, “Hope springs eternal.”
Opponents are lobbying hard to kill the bill while many Metropolitan District Commission ratepayers, particularly in Bloomfield and West Hartford, are pushing lawmakers to take up the bill before the clock runs out.
Outside the Capitol Wednesday, critics of the proposal to sell 2 million gallons daily to Niagara Bottling Co. gathered around a large work of art called The Wave created in 2011 to focus attention on water issues worldwide.
“Our message is we are all connected by our mutual need for water,” said artist Susan Hoffman Fishman, who watched as supporters cut images out of multi-colored plastic that were tied together and added to the growing project.
While foes were working on the art project outside, lobbyists for the MDC and others were buttonholing legislators inside to try to keep the bill bottled up long enough to keep it from coming to the floor for a House vote, the fate of many proposals every year that get caught in the tangle of last-minute legislative business.
“We’re looking for this building, and the contents inside, to at least [have] the option of rethinking” the deal that handed Niagara cut-rate water in large volumes, said Mark Saunders of Bloomfield.
The Senate voted last week in favor of the bill, SB 422, that would give residential water customers a priority over commercial bottling companies during a drought and require any customer seeking to divert more than 500,000 gallons daily obtain a state permit first. Nothing has happened with the measure since that April 19 vote.
The MDC recently urged ratepayers in its eight towns to urge their legislators to oppose the measure. It said the bill would undermine Connecticut’s competitiveness “through overreaching water regulation,” limit its ability to attract new manufacturing and other businesses and “increase your water rates.”
Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, said the House should take up the bill.
“This is an issue that really needs to be debated and discussed by our legislature,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a good achievement before the end of this session.”
Bye urged supporters of the bill to “hang in there with us. It’s not easy up here.”
West Hartford is holding an informational meeting at its town hall at 7 p.m. tonight where MDC officials are expected to explain the Niagara deal and answer questions from town leaders and residents.
Valerie Rossetti, a Bloomfield resident with the grassroots group Save Our Water Connecticut, said the citizen group is “not going away” and plans to keep pressing the MDC for information and the state for action.
At the least, she said, the public pressure has caused legislators “to open their eyes” and the public to recognize that the water supply may not be as secure as everyone thought to the predations of business.
Rossetti said volume discounts such as the one offered to Niagara are bad policy.
“It’s the antithesis of conservation,” she said.
Bye said the state needs to reexamine water policies created in the past that may be unsuitable for a time of climate change that adds uncertainty to what may happen in the years ahead.
“The next 40 years are not going to be the same,” Bye said.
Business groups and water companies, however, are fighting back.
The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce and the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority this week urged legislators to kill what at it called “an overreaching piece of unnecessary legislation.”
In a letter to legislators, the groups said the state “should be lessening the regulatory burden on business” to create a more business-friendly environment rather than enacting “a new permitting regimen” that would impose more costs on water customers and drive away “current and future economic development.”
Bye said that water regulation is a complex issue, not that different from the difficulties of overseeing oil or natural gas.
She said it’s surprising that when the Niagara plan “came almost out of nowhere” in December, critics were able to get so far toward a legislative response within months. Usually something this complicated, she said, takes a few years to move forward.
As it is, Bye said, “The people who control the rates want to keep control. They don’t want anything to change.”
So even if the measure falls short this session, supporters said they’ll keep pushing it. Sooner or later, they said, change is going to come.