Updated Colebrook Reservoir News - 7/20/23

FRWA spoke at the Press Conference on July 18 - NCLC and Save the Sound signed a memorandum of agreement with water company MDC - The Metropolitan District for a conservation easement to protect 5,500 acres of watershed lands that provide for public recreation and clean water for fishing and swimming in the Colebrook and West Branch Reservoir systems. MDC has asked the CT Department of Health to grant an abandonment permit for 10 billion gallons of water storage space in the Colebrook River Reservoir. If that permit is granted, NCLC will acquire the easement ensuring the permanent protection of these essential natural lands and waters.

See Press Release here.

“Protecting this large forest tract in its current state will forever preserve and protect the water in Colebrook Reservoir as a drinking water source but will also forever be a pristine source of freshwater downstream for the West Branch of the Farmington River,” said Aimee Petras, executive director of the Farmington River Watershed Association. “For over 50 years, the Farmington River has benefited from the augmented cold-water releases provided by the Colebrook Reservoir through Goodwin Dam, often at a flow rate higher than upstream in-flows. These flows, and their reliable high quality, have fostered a recreational fishery that is one of the best in the nation as well as a vibrant paddling community. Today we celebrate that these lands will forever protect what our Farmington River Community has grown to rely upon and will be forever protected for future generations.”

On April 26th, MDC submitted their Colebrook Reservoir Storage Abandonment Permit and DPH has posted it on their website. To view the application and/or to submit public comments visit the DPH site. Written comments can be submitted until June 1, 2023. We are glad that the DPH is allowing public comments on this important issue.

On February 13th, MDC Board of Directors voted to pursue applying for an abandonment permit for the 10BG water storage in Colebrook Reservoir. Learn more at Save the Sound.

FRWA has a recorded Q&A session with Alicea Charamut, Executive Director of Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, and FRWA’s Executive Director Aimee Petras, from 11/30/2022

Aerial photo of the Colebrook River Lake Dam, operated by the U.S. ACOE and the West Branch Reservoir, below, operated by the MDC.

A brief history of the issue:

In 2019, MDC began the process of decommissioning the Hydroelectric Facility at Colebrook Dam which the MDC has operated under agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  The Colebrook Reservoir began operation in 1969 and was primarily built as a flood control dam after the 1955 flood, but the dam was built in the middle of the approved projected impoundment of Goodwin Dam.  The contract that was negotiated between MDC and USACE, was that MDC would have 3.5 billion gallons (BG) gallons of storage in Colebrook Reservoir, along with 10 BG of emergency drinking water supply storage.

Since that contract was signed in 1969, the 10 BG of emergency drinking water was never used. There is no infrastructure for this water to be transported into MDC’s drinking water supply system which comes from Barkhamsted and Nepaug Reservoirs. FRWA’s members and Board of Directors fought against the proposed diversions from the Goodwin Dam to Barkhamsted Reservoir in the 1980s. MDC plans to apply for an abandonment permit from the CT Department of Public Health (DPH) that will decide the question of the status of the 10 BG storage in Colebrook Reservoir.

What concerns CT state environmental leaders which include FRWA, Rivers Alliance of CT, and Save the Sound, are what happens to the 6,000+ acres the MDC owns surrounding Colebrook if those lands are no longer protecting a drinking water source?  For many years those 10BG have been used to supplant the flows in the Farmington River that are critical to supporting our fisheries and recreational businesses downstream.  Over the past summer, MDC didn’t request any releases from their 10 BG of storage in the same manner as in past years. This was brought to the attention of three Commissioners at three state agencies; David Lehman from the Department of Economic and Community Development, Katherine Dykes from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Brian Hurlburt of the Department of Agriculture, which lead them to write a letter to MDC asking for them to resume flows in the summer.

Learn more about Colebrook and Goodwin Dams and flow regulations here