Updated Colebrook Reservoir News - 2/20/24

There are two bills being proposed in this legislative session in Connecticut to support the health of the Upper Farmington River. These have been brought forward by Representative Mark Anderson, Senator Lisa Seminara and Representative Jay Case.

The first bill requires the MDC to make requests for releases from the Colebrook River Dam, as necessary, to maintain the flow of water in the West Branch of the Farmington River at or above a rate determined to be a sufficient minimum flow rate by DEEP.

The second bill directs DEEP to oversee an update to the Farmington River Instream Flow Study last completed in 1992.    

Updating this study will provide information to determine the best flow regime for the Upper Farmington River to support    its ecological health and recreational flows in light of changes in climate, as well as recent changes to state and pending changes to federal regulations governing the water in Colebrook River Reservoir.

If you would like to submit a letter of support, email Laura for a template or more information.

Abandonment Permit status:

On April 26th, MDC submitted their Colebrook Reservoir Storage Abandonment Permit to the Department of Public Health (DPH). The permit was grated in August of 2023: "In accordance with the provisions of CGS § 25-33k, the Commissioner of Public Health has determined that the 10 BG is not needed by MDC, other water companies, or the state as a present, future, or emergency water supply, and is not a viable source of supply..." view the permit on the DPH website, here.

This is in regard to use "approximately 10 billion gallons of water stored between elevation 644 and 701 (“10 BG”) within Colebrook River Lake (a/k/a Colebrook Reservoir), impounded behind the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ (“USACE”) Colebrook River Dam on the West Branch Farmington River.  MDC has rights to use such water pursuant to a contract with the USACE dated February 11, 1965, as amended on October 28, 1975.  MDC will continue to have rights to approximately 3.5 billion gallons of water impounded behind the Colebrook River Dam below elevation 641 (“3.5 BG”), and will continue to own approximately 3.0 billion gallons of water within the adjacent West Branch Reservoir, impounded behind MDC’s Goodwin Dam (“3.0 BG”)."

Land Status:

FRWA spoke at the Press Conference on July 18, 2023 - 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.”

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 USACE 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 applied for and received an abandonment permit from the CT Department of Public Health (DPH) in August 2023.

Learn more about Colebrook and Goodwin Dams and flow regulations here

View USACE water level data here