Despite recent delays, United Water still plans to meet their October deadline to bring water to the 912 residencies in the Greenridge area of Brookfield.
United Water was charged by the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) to deliver potable water to Greenridge residents upon taking control of the well system from the Greenridge Tax District in 2008, after unacceptable levels of uranium were found in the groundwater. On March 3, 2010, the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) and DPH reopened the docket to review the needed improvements and how they will be assessed to the users.
United Water plans to extend an existing water line from Newtown to service the Greenridge area, however Newtown officials have opposed the process, stating that they have not received adequate documentation to ensure their residents that Newtown's aquifer can handle the additional stress.
A hearing was held on March 25 and held open until July 29 (postponed from June 17), in order to give Newtown representatives an opportunity to be heard.
Extending the Newtown line "will not threaten one drop of water" to Newtown residents, United Water spokesman Steven Goudsmith assured, stating that the project will actually increase the flow of water for fire suppression. "Connecting to existing systems is a very conventional method," he added. Newtown officials have asserted that they have not seen any reports to verify this statement and worry that their water supply is already low during dry conditions.
Greenridge residents have been living with contaminated water since well before 2008. Laura Pizzirusso, who lives with her family on Meadow Drive, moved into her home five years ago and was alerted to the uranium problem six months later.
While residents are cautioned not to drink the water, they have been told it is safe to cook and shower in. "They say you can," Pizzirusso said, "but you wonder what's going to happen in the steam. You try to use bottled water to cook with, but sometimes you run out."
Continued exposure to uranium exceeding a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 30 over many years has been linked to kidney toxicity and certain types of cancer. The annual average in the Greenridge water system is 29, according to United Water, with a peak of 41.5.
Pizzirusso and her husband purchase 12 gallons of bottled water every two weeks, which has become a prohibitive expense. According to an informational brochure sent out to Greenridge residents earlier this week, one gallon of tap water through United Water costs less than one cent.
The actual cost to residents has yet to be determined, though, as a public utility, the final assessment rates will have to be approved by the DPUC. The extension is expected to cost approximately $4 million according to Goudsmith, which will be recouped by United Water through the users' water bills.
Rumors that residents will be hit with a $25,000 connection fee are unfounded, as the rates have not been set yet, though a one-time hook-up fee is not unusual according to DPUC spokesman Phillip Dukes. "Every case is fact specific," he explained, adding that he "can't see how that number [$25,000] is correct" due to the scope of the project ($4 million spread across 912 homes comes out to just under $4,400 per residence). Any kind of assessment would have to have the final approval of the DPUC.
"Rates being set have to make sense with the project being built," Goudsmith concurred, though he declined to make any projections on assessments.
The public hearing will be held in Edmond Town Hall in Newtown on Tuesday, July 29. If Newtown's fears can be assuaged, the project will be resumed with the October target still in sight.
"The Department of Public Health is involved," Goudsmith reiterated, "This really needs to happen."
Goudsmith urged any Greenridge residents with questions to call United Water's Connecticut offices in Bethel at 203-798-2152.