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David Sutherland, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut chapter, leads the panel discussion (Jack Kramer photo)

HARTFORD, CT – Taking proactive measures to battle continuing drought conditions in the state is better left to municipalities than utility companies, is what environmentalists and an audience of state officials and legislators heard from experts Tuesday.

A panel discussion on “Protecting Our State’s Waters’’ delved into a litany of subjects on water usage at the 16th annual Connecticut League of Conservation Voters Environmental Summit held at the Riverfront Boathouse.

One of the four panelists, David Radka, director of Water Resources and Planning for the Connecticut Water Company, said: “When push comes to shove, municipalities have more control’’ over how much water people use than utilities.

Radka added that “precious few’’ municipalities have exerted that control to help the state out of its water crisis, stating the town of Greenwich was an exception.

Back in September, Greenwich officials passed a water shortage ordinance, which among other things, imposed a $90 fine for residents who watered their lawns with automatic irrigation methods.

The ordinance also prohibited residents from using water to flush driveways, sidewalks, decks or other outside areas, banned the washing of cars and windows, among other restrictions.

Greenwich is in Fairfield County, one of areas in the state impacted most by the dry conditions.

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Connecticut issued its first-ever Drought Watch in October for counties in western and central Connecticut, including Fairfield, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, Tolland and New Haven counties.

Those counties are being asked to reduce their use of water by 15 percent. Windham and New London counties are under a Drought Advisory and being asked to reduce their water usage by 10 percent.

Another water panelist on Tuesday was David Sutherland, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut chapter.

Sutherland said the problem with controlling water use is that, “Even in non-drought years, we are seeing longer periods of droughts interspersed with rain or snow events.

“It makes managing water use all the more challenging,” added Sutherland.

Even though the state has had a few days of steady rainfall over the past few weeks, it isn’t near enough to make up for the extended dry periods, according to Douglas Glowacki, emergency management program specialist for the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP).

In October, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state officials asked Connecticut residents to take the lack of rain seriously, saying one of the best ways to combat drought conditions is taking shorter showers, doing less loads of laundry, and not running faucets continually.

To date, 20 water companies have requested voluntary conservation or imposed mandatory restrictions.

A continually updated list of these water companies is available on the Department of Public Health’s website.

While this is the state’s first Drought Watch, lower-level Drought Advisories were previously declared in 2002, 2007, 2010, and earlier this year.

A Drought Watch is the second of four stages of drought defined in the Connecticut Drought Preparedness and Response Plan.

Tuesday’s environmental summit had a series of panel discussions on other topics besides water use, including climate action and investing in environmental action.

Other speakers also included Malloy and Robert Klee, commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

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Julie Belaga, former lawmaker and one-time gubernatorial candidate (Jack Kramer photo)

One of the highlights of the day was remarks by former Republican lawmaker Julie Belaga, founder of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and a well-known environmentalist.

Belaga said she was at the event, in part, to give a pep talk to her fellow environmentalists, who might be reeling a bit from the election of Donald Trump as president – and Trump’s selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Pruitt is a global warming skeptic. And he says Americans are tired of “unnecessary EPA regulations” that he says are draining “billions of dollars” from the nation’s economy.

In defense of Pruitt, Trump has said Pruitt will be a “powerful advocate” for protecting the environment, while also promoting “jobs, safety and opportunity.” He said Pruitt will restore the EPA’s “essential mission of keeping our air and water safe,” but won’t spend money on what Trump calls an “out of control, anti-energy agenda.”

“Who is their wildest dreams – it is scary, it has blown me away,’’ Belaga told the audience, would have thought that Trump would choose Pruitt to head the EPA.

“EPA is no longer a valid entity,’’ continued Belaga. “This man (Pruitt) says climate change is a hoax.

“I find it impossible to catch my breath,” said Belaga.

But Belaga said those whose goal it remains to protect the environment must not give up.

“You are the people who are required to take a leadership role,” Belaga said. “We are a small state, but we have big ideas – there isn’t going to be a mass exodus of our ideas.”

Belaga said those who believe protecting the environment is still an important issue must do three things: get young people involved in the cause; get more involved in the cause, themselves; and, lastly, contribute money to the environmental causes they believe in.

Belaga told the audience they better listen to her, “Because, I’m going to keep watching.”