Tag Archives: Smart Water Westport

“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

[OPINION] Aquarion’s Diversionary Tactics

Dr. Stefanie Lemcke is a technology entrepreneur. She moved to Westport in 2012, and is an immediate neighbor to the Aquarion property. She, her husband Marc and several other Westporters started Smart Water Westport, to educate the community on water issues. She writes:

Aquarion is the only water provider in Westport. and many towns nearby.

Water prices are proposed by Aquarion, and set by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. As Westporters might suspect from watching their water bills, prices always go one direction: up.

Though Connecticut has plenty of water, only residents of Hawaii and Alaska pay more.

Over the past few years, Aquarion filed for a special permit to dismantle the existing water tank on North Avenue, and replace it with 2 much larger tanks that would quadruple the water storage capacity.

PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site visit in 2018 …

At meetings and through petitions, residents requested lower height of the tanks. Neighbors formed Smart Water Westport to argue for better management of our water, and smaller tanks.

The group raised 2 main arguments:

  • The North Avenue property was not zoned for such a large facility in a residential neighborhood (according to town zoning, water tanks are only allowed in AA neighborhoods if they served the immediate neighborhood)
  • The amount of water wasn’t needed for our town. The population had not increased, so why would we need 4 times the storage capacity?

Our state senators and First Selectman Jim Marpe wrote to Aquarion, supporting our request to decrease the tanks’ size.

Danielle Dobin, now chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission, wrote a personal appeal to Aquarion’s CEO to reconsider construction in this location.

Aquarion countered that Westport indeed faced a water shortage: Water usage was skyrocketing, and the company had implemented an irrigation schedule here to save water.

The company even bought television ads to convince us that without these tanks, we would face a terrible shortage of water.

In the end, a settlement granted Aquarion the right to build the tanks at a reduced height of the roof. The total price tag: $10 million, and a 2-year construction period.

… and the current tank.

Curiously, almost immediately after winning approval to build the tanks in the middle of a residential neighborhood, Aquarion applied to divert water from the Westport system to lower Fairfield.

The amount is unbelievably high. The permit asks to divert more than 14 million gallons per day.

Aquarion is telling us that we have more than enough water in our region, and we can easily divert some to Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich. Aquarion even sells water to Westchester and New York City.

All the arguments for building the tanks are suddenly flipped. There will be no shortage. There is plenty of water here: The Westport wells are actually not for Westport, but for Lower Fairfield.

On average, more than 60 million gallons per day is available (a number the company did not disclose during the water tank hearings).

The town of Fairfield and environmental agencies have filed for intervenor status, asking Aquarion to be transparent with their analysis and reasons regarding the need for this substantial increase in the volume of water diversion, as well as its impact on water quality, the environment, water usage and conservation.

Watch your water bills. Refurbishing the old tank would have cost just $1.5 million. Now, customers are paying for more than $10 million.

To make matters worse, we are paying for water that is diverted elsewhere, and sold to New York City.

Please email our town and state representatives, and our local P&Z chair. Ask them to get involved in the diversion petition, and to question Aquarion’s practice.

Also, register for May 4 (3 p.m., Zoom): the last discussion around Aquarion’s water diversion permit. Every citizen should have a say in how one of our most prized assets is being used — and the price we pay for it.