Letter: Conservationist responds to aquifer protection letter
To the Editor:
I’d like to respond to the P&Z Chairwoman’s letter in The Ridgefield Press dated 8/29/19. This response is not an Ridgefield Conservation Commission (RCC) endorsed response and instead, I write this as a private and concerned citizen.
P&Z said: “The RCC wants you to believe that your drinking water is at risk — it’s not.”
Response: Aquarion reports on water quality in their system, which includes four well fields in town and surface water from outside Ridgefield. Federal/State regulations dictate what contaminants are tested and the testing frequency.
More than 100 chemicals are tested, some tests are daily, some are up to nine years between tests. The most recent Aquarion reports show compliance with current standards. The Environmental Working Group analyzed the 2015 data and concluded that seven chemicals were detected at levels above more stringent health-based guidelines.
A different list of more than 350 chemicals (hazardous materials) is used in the Connecticut Aquifer Protection Regulations. There is some overlap but many of the 350 are not required to be tested by Aquarion. Individual home wells are rarely tested for either list of contaminants because of the high cost of testing. I believe that anytime hazardous materials are being handled or stored there is a risk to our drinking water and that this risk should be minimized by a regulatory system that includes precautions against spills and regular inspections. The Valero station gasoline spill (71 gallons) on August 2, 2019 almost reached Little Pond (which has a locally-defined aquifer beneath). What was the P&Z follow-up to prevent a recurrence at another location?
Another spill was found along Route 7 in 2014 when excavation at 865 Ethan Allen Highway (the former Michael Venus property) resulted in a strong oil odor and an oil sheen on the Norwalk River. It was later found that oil was leaking from an above ground storage tank and truck filling station that was no longer being used (abandoned more than 10 years earlier). Leaks over many years had saturated the soil. Why were there no inspections that uncovered this spill earlier? There is a need to implement measures to avoid/prevent spills because cleaning up aquifers after spills is expensive, testing of water quality is insufficient to alert the homeowner when their water is not fit to drink, and it is rarely possible to clean up contaminated aquifers to meet drinking water requirements.
P&Z said: “In its 29 years…no spills or contamination….”
Response: This is a poor measure of performance as many spills are not reported. Does your gardener report spills of gasoline when filling mowers/blowers? There is a need to implement measures to avoid/prevent spills. Two spills that could have caused aquifer contamination were discussed above.
P&Z said: “…..WESTCOG - only Ridgefield has zoning regulations to protect aquifers for the future.”
Response: The regulations are OK. They would be much better administered by IWB.
P&Z said: “DEEP recommends that APA be with P&Z”
Response: DEEP has reported (in writing) that they support the move of APA to IWB:
“DEEP supports the appointment of the Inland Wetlands Board as the Aquifer Protection Agency.”
P&Z said: “Conservation Commission, without evidence or facts, argues that P&Z is unqualified to serve as APA"
Response: I disagree with lack of evidence or facts. I’ve reviewed audio tapes of P&Z sessions (they are available to the public at the Planning Offices). It is public record that a member of P&Z admitted to never even reading the IWB regulations. When interviewing candidates for P&Z vacancies, the candidates didn’t even know that IWB was a part of P&Z and the interviewer joked about how little they need to know.
Also, last year, the current APA (which is the P&Z) has spent a cumulative less than 10 minutes in their capacity as the APA and considering "APA issues.” And the current APA participated in only one vote on a special permit application in the last 10 years.
P&Z said: "Aquifer regulations should be with P&Z because they regulate land use.”
Response: That is the principle behind the legislation. But many of Ridgefield’s “prohibited land uses above an aquifer” like gas stations, vehicle repair shops, dry cleaners, etc. are above local aquifer protection areas. Since P&Z has had APA responsibility for 29 years, shouldn’t they have used their land use powers to gradually move these risky activities off local aquifer protection areas?
Cooper Hill Road, Sept. 3