Tag Archives: North Avenue water tanks

“Smart Water Westport” Urges Action

According to “Smart Water Westport,” our town ranks first in Connecticut in water conservation.

However, the grassroots group says, Westport residents pay 50% more for water than Norwalkers, and more than double what our neighbors in Rhode Island and Massachusetts pay.

Meanwhile, Smart Water Westport has their eyes on the North Avenue water tanks. A few years ago, they secured almost 2,000 signatures on a petition for “smarter water solutions” in the debate over new tanks. In 2019, a regulator ruled that Aquarion intended to improve the situation, which led to a settlement. Construction began in 2020. 

Since then, residents near Staples High School — and everyone traveling the busy road — have watched  the project unfold.

Today, Smart Water Westport sends an open letter to Marissa Paslick Gillett. She chairs Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). It says:

For the past 6 years, Westport residents have learned about the water systems in our town and state. While there are probably as many opinions on water as faucets in Westport, most of us agree on one point: If we knew in 2017 what we know now, there is no way that the tanks on North Avenue would have been approved.

One view of Aquarion’s North Avenue water tanks …

Today, we formally ask your agency to review the project in Westport. The reasons for such a review are the following:

  • Tank size: The new tanks on North Avenue are larger than the PURA ruling allows.
  • Water volume: Westport’s lack of water volume has never been an issue.
  • Violation of zoning laws: Aquarion essentially wrote its own permit.
  • Soil contamination: The soil on North Avenue was so contaminated that a specialized removal site rejected the delivery.
  • Innovation: Aquarion has no plans to install any 21st-century technologies.

Westport already has the nation’s highest utility costs in the Lower 48. You testified in March 2022 that Connecticut residents are suffering “death by a thousand cuts” (CT Examiner). We do not believe that it has to be this way, and we invite your agency to work with us to ensure:

  • fair and affordable rates for all residents,
  • safe water and increased fire protection, and
  • modern water management that actively addresses future challenges.

… and a close-up.

There is an urgency and importance for change now. Consider:

  • Water conservation and smart management will be imperative going forward; it must be part of the Connecticut Development and Future Commission working plan.
  • Important PURA projects, like the performance-based rate-setting framework or the advanced metering infrastructure, must include water issues.
  • Aquarion’s parent company, Eversource, has promised higher returns for investors, and this will result in even higher bills for Connecticut residents.
  • Issues surrounding water quality and fire protection have not been addressed.
  • Climate change has not even been considered in the State Water Plan.

Over the past 6 years, a group of neighbors has analyzed almost every number that Aquarion has publicly stated. In doing so, they have found many unanswered questions, instances of misleading information, and weak oversight, and this may explain why Connecticut ratepayers pay the nation’s highest water bills.

We are hopeful that this project will become a case study and model Westporters can look to with pride.

Kind regards,

Smart Water Westport

Water Flows From Aquarion Tanks

There was no official announcement. Or perhaps I missed it.

But — along with its monthly water bills — Aquarion sent this information to customers recently:

“Westport’s New Water Tanks Operational

“Aquarion customers in Westport now have a significantly expanded water storage supply for fire protection and everyday needs with the recently completion of the construction project on North Avenue. The project replaced a rusting steel tank built in 1956 with a pair of new, concrete ones.

“Combined, the tanks can store 4.3 million gallons of water — almost triple the capacity of the one they’ve replaced.

Construction on the North Avenue water tanks. (Photo courtesy of Aquarion)

“Westport was just one of many communities across the country where old and obsolete water infrastructure was in need of an upgrade, especially in the face of 6 or more decades of population and economic growth.

“In the spring, we’ll begin a major landscaping project that will not only restore the site but improve its aesthetics as well. We’ll also complete the exterior finish work on the tanks. Meanwhile, the tanks themselves are fully operational.

“We’re delighted to bring water service in Westport to this robust new level, and thank local residents for their patience during the construction phase of this project.”

The $10 million project drew protests from neighbors and town officials. It proceeded only after a settlement was reached, covering areas including height, landscaping, and traffic management during construction.

(Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

81-Unit Housing Application Withdrawn; Aquarion Meeting Still On

You know that controversial plan to build 81 units of housing on the small parcel of land between Post Road West, Lincoln Street and Cross Street? The one that was going to draw a huge crowd to tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting?

It’s off the table — for now.

Cross Street LLC has withdrawn its site plan application. P&Z director Mary Young said it will be resubmitted. Public hearings will begin again September 6.

But there’s still plenty of action at Town Hall tonight. The P&Z meeting has been switched to Room 201/201A.

Moving into the auditorium — also at 7 p.m. — is a Public Utilities Regulatory Authority public hearing.

The topic: Aquarion’s proposal to build 2 large water tanks on North Avenue.

 

Public Hearings Next Thursday On Aquarion Water Tanks

Aquarion wants to build 2 big water tanks on North Avenue.

Next Thursday, there will be 2 big meetings about them.

Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will hear public comments at both, in Town Hall. The July 12 2 p.m. session is set for the auditorium. The 7 p.m. meeting is in Room 201/201A. (If you’re wondering why the evening session is in a smaller space than the afternoon one: I am too.)

The hearings are a result of a petition against Aquarion’s proposal, from 9 immediate property owners and 76 other Westporters. PURA may add more hearings after Thursday, if necessary.

Letters will be accepted from the public through the last day of the hearing (Thursday or later). The address is 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051.

Click here for all filings made in the case thus far.

An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site, opposite Staples High School.

Aquarion Douses Daily Watering

It was a weird time for Aquarion’s announcement: a rainy day, a week or so before winter begins.

But the water company chose today to say that due to an “ongoing precipitation deficit,” it will introduce permanent 2-day-a-week water limits on in-ground irrigation systems and above-ground sprinklers.

The program will take effect “during the 2018 watering season.” Residents may continue to use drip irrigation, soaker hoses and hand-held watering devices at any time.

Aquarion will also ask golf courses to reduce water use by 10%.

The Westport restriction is similar to those in place in Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich and Stamford for the past 18 months.

Aquarion says that the 4 other localities where restrictions are in place have already saved 860 million gallons of water. The company adds that lawns and gardens thrive on reduced watering. Roots grow deeper into the soil, absorbing more moisture and nutrients — even during dry spells.

Beginning next month, Aquarion will conduct public presentations in Westport to provide the rationale and expected benefits, and describe the actual process.

Westport’s water consumption is “well above average,” Aquarion officials say.

The restrictions come as some North Avenue residents oppose the utility’s proposed new water tanks across from Staples High School.

First selectman Jim Marpe says:

Aquarion must be clear on its agenda for Westport. I know that Westport residents will be willing to do their part to conserve water if our local supply is truly vulnerable. However, if we are looking at 2 new water tanks that take into account an increase in water usage, Aquarion must be forthcoming with its calculations. We need to understand the relationship between having another public utility structure in town with the requirement to reduce water utilization.

 

The irrigation schedule will be based on the last digit of street addresses. Even- numbered homes — and those with no number — can water on Sundays and Wednesdays; those with odd numbers can water on Saturdays and Tuesdays. All watering is restricted to before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

Variances are available in certain circumstances — for example, if new plantings or sod have been installed.

For more information — including how to landscape and garden with less water — click here.

Balloons show the height of Aquarion’s proposed water tank on North Avenue.

Aquarion Water Towers: P&Z Member Responds

On Monday, Chip Stephens saw an “06880” post announcing that 1st selectman candidates Jim Marpe and Melissa Kane would meet with North Avenue residents concerned about Aquarion’s plan to build 2 water tanks on North Avenue.

As he read it, the Planning & Zoning Commission member saw red.

In an email to “06880,” Stephens responds:

The North Avenue water tanks are not a campaign issue. To say they are shows little respect for the hard work to date addressing needs and concerns, and no attention to facts.

The P&Z spent 4 months reviewing and working on this. We came to our conclusion based on facts from Aquarion, neighbors and public safety officials. For example:

The current steel tank dates back to the 1950s. That was before Staples High School was built on North Avenue, back when we hosted Nike missiles in town, and before many large housing developments — including the the current tank’s neighbors — were built. Homes are now bigger, and there are  more of them. Multifamily housing complexes did not exist then. They do now, and they are increasing.

The current tank is way past its freshness date. Steel rusts, and degrades. The tank needs to be replaced. That is a given.

The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.

As part of a gravity feed system,, the tank needs to be at its current elevation or higher. Different locations, including Bayberry or Bedford Middle School, were looked at. But that would entail new piping, and other neighbors being offended.

All the numbers calculated in the needed capacity were scrutinized, revised, reviewed and argued over. The fire chief, water experts and all other experts agreed that with Westport’s growth and larger schools, businesses and multi-family complexes, and the safety of Westport, these volumes of water must be served.

Westport’s water come from Fairfield. The needs are ours. Norwalk has its own water authority, not linked to Aquarion. Weston has no public water (which is scary, with failing wells and tainted quality).

Any decision by P&Z could be overturned by the state utility regulators, and most likely would have been if the application was denied. Water utilities are required to work with towns, but ultimately have broad power to locate their resources. Phone, electricity, rail all do what they want, with no requirement to listed to affected neighbors (though sometimes they do).

The neighbors have valid and pressing concerns. They got much attention from Aquarion, with multiple meetings. Many of their issues were heard. Not all were fully addressed — but Aquarion did try to accommodate higher plantings, color of tanks, very slight lowering of height, and promises to consider traffic and noise better than the previous pump project.

Remember, this is a public utility. Relocation, reworking and/or rebuilding the distribution system pipes and pumps — or any other major change — would involve major costs. These would be carried by Westport public water users, resulting in significantly higher water bills. And good luck finding that location with high enough elevation, and where all neighbors welcome the tanks with love and understanding for the greater good.

P&Z and local officials tried to hard to do our best, working with the parties. Regulatory, financial and logistical issues are hard to fight. And when it comes to the water system, there is no way to alter the laws of gravity and physics.