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HARTFORD, CT — With the bottled water industry attempting to expand as parts of the state face drought conditions, legislators heard testimony Friday from people concerned about the water supply and from others in the water industry.

Specifically at issue during Friday’s public hearing was HB 753, a bill to authorize a study of the impact of water bottling plants on the state’s public water supply.

The committee’s deadline to act on the bill is March 24.

One of the speakers opposed to the use of public water for commercial bottling operations was Dr. Valerie Rossetti, a Bloomfield resident and founder of the grassroots group “Save Our Water CT.”

The group was formed last year in opposition to an agreement between Niagara Bottling, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), and the Bloomfield Town Council.

Rossetti told the committee that the way the deal with the MDC was structured, Niagara’s water rates actually would down as the volume of their usage increased — but that aspect of the deal was later rescinded.

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“I personally, as a public health physician — I don’t believe that water should be a corporate asset,” Rossetti said. “I strongly believe . . . that it’s a public trust and that we need to treat it that way.”

State Rep. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, told one witness that he understands the public concern.

“I think what frustrates many folks, at least my constituents are feeling that they’re being asked to conserve, but they see that at the same time, 1.5, eventually, it’s not yet there, but eventually 1.5 million gallons a day going out for the bottled water, yet they’re being asked to conserve,” Slap said. “That disconnect is tough for people to wrap their heads around.”

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However, from one water utility official’s point of view, picking and choosing customers is problematic.

Maureen Westbrook, vice president of Connecticut Water, told the committee that water bottling plants use less water than breweries, wineries, or soda bottling operations and her water utility — which is separate from the Metropolitan District Commission where the new Niagara plant was built — cannot discriminate between customers.

“As a public service company we have a statutory obligation to serve those when requested to do so and we’re not in a position to judge the merits of a particular customer’s use or needs,” Westbrook said. “Nor do we think the state should establish policies or barriers to entry for specific businesses or uses.”

Westbrook said Connecticut has “excellent water.” She said in a drought, hospitals and nursing homes are considered priority water users — but beyond that she testified that making distinctions among users becomes difficult.

“I’m not sure how you would identify the rest,” Westbrook said. “And where do you make those value judgments, which ones should have water and which ones shouldn’t under those circumstances? And they’re generally very limited circumstances. We’re in it now, but not across the state, where people are being asked to limit their use because of shortages, but it’s very atypical, certainly in my career.”

Several speakers, including Dr. Rossetti, pointed out that the mostly-automated Niagara Bottling plant won’t create a big economic benefit for the state.

“The environmental cost to the state of having to deal with all this is something that we weigh against maybe 60 jobs for the plant,” Rossetti said.

Neither officials from the MDC nor Niagara testified on the bill.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We corrected this story to reflect that the volume discount for Niagara Bottling that had been included in the original deal has been rescinded.