After nearly five years and spending over $1 million, Connecticut finally has a 600-plus page State Water Plan.
It is designed, according to the document, "to help planners, regulators, and lawmakers make decisions about managing Connecticut's water in a manner that is consistent throughout the state with stakeholder-defined principles and available scientific data."
Legislators approved the plan in the final hours of the 2019 General Assembly session.
The draft plan failed to get legislative approval last year due to the controversial last-minute insertion of language declaring that there is a public trust in the waters of the state.
The impact of this language was never made clear, nor was a definition ever offered by proponents.
Instead, they declared that the public trust doctrine has been around for centuries and that it should apply to all waters of Connecticut.
State Law Takes Precedence
The controversy arose when the legal community and others pointed out that the centuries-old public trust doctrine defines the boundary between private water rights and public water rights—the mean high tide mark for tidal waters.
Opponents of the language are concerned that the declaration that all Connecticut waters are held in public trust could be interpreted to essentially eliminate private rights to water anywhere in the state.
That is an unprecedented concept and one that conflicts with existing state statutes requiring a balancing of interests among private and public uses when it comes to water management, including economic development interests.
In the end, the legislature addressed the controversy by clarifying that to the extent the state water plan or management decisions based on the state water plan conflict with state statutes, state law takes precedence.