Connecticut Adopts Revised Stream Flow Regulations and Standards

Posted on May 2, 2012 by Gregory Sharp

The fish versus faucet debate that has been percolating in Connecticut for the past decade has produced a comprehensive stream flow regulation with release rules applicable to all dam owners.  The new regulations will bring each segment of every river and stream in the state under the regulatory umbrella when fully implemented.

Previous regulations adopted in 1979 applied only to streams stocked with fish by the State and imposed a flat minimum release requirement on owners of dams on those streams.

The new regulations require the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to first assign each stream segment one of four classifications.  Once the classifications are adopted, the regulations will require owners of dams to release water to maintain flows downstream of the dam according to the classification of the segment.

Class 1 will apply to segments which are free flowing and will require that any dam owner on these segments not manipulate storage or withdraw water from the impoundment.  Class 2 will apply to segments with minimally altered flow and will require dam owners to provide for a continuous release of 75% of the natural inflow to the impoundment.

Class 3 will apply to segments with moderately altered flow and will require dam owners to comply with a variable minimum release regime calculated for the segment based upon one of six bioperiods.  Class 4 applies to segments with substantially altered flows due to human needs for water supply, flood control, industry, agriculture and other lawful uses.

Connecticut’s five major river basins will be classified one basin at a time.  The Department estimates that classification of all five basins will take five years.  The regulations require that the release requirements applicable to regulated dam owners become effective not later than 10 years after a segment is classified.  The lead time was deemed necessary to enable dam owners to make modifications to their structures to be able to comply with the release requirements.

The new regulations represent a compromise package between what the Department originally wanted and the regulated community would accept.  Before the current package was approved, three previous proposed regulations had been rejected by the General Assembly’s Legislative Regulation Review Committee.  To win legislative approval, the Department eliminated groundwater withdrawals from the scope of the regulations and provided exemptions for agricultural and golf course irrigators.

In addition, to provide certainty to water utilities, the regulations specify that segments downstream of a public water supply reservoir shall not be classified as Class 1 or Class 2.  Finally, the regulations do not apply to government flood control dams or hydropower dams regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The regulations became effective on December 12, 2011.