Colebrook Reservoir Core Forest

Colebrook Reservoir

Location: Colebrook Reservoir, CT | Status: Settled

Permanently Conserving 5,500 acres of Core Forest Surrounding the Colebrook Reservoir Emergency and Future Drinking Supply Source 

Victory: In a groundbreaking win for open space protection in Northwest Connecticut, Save the Sound reached an agreement with The Metropolitan District (MDC) to permanently conserve approximately 5,500 acres of core forest land surrounding the Colebrook Reservoir/West Branch Reservoir system. 

The agreement was prompted by MDC’s move earlier this year to seek an abandonment permit for a 10 billion gallon (BG) water storage space in the Colebrook River Reservoir. Open space land surrounding drinking water supplies is currently subject to protections under state law. Abandonment would result in the 10 BG no longer being considered a potential drinking water supply by Department of Public Health and, more importantly, if the entire reservoir is abandoned the space surrounding the reservoir would lose it’s open space protections. Environmental organizations were concerned that such an abandonment, if approved by DPH, could set a precedent that would potentially jeopardize the status of the land surrounding the reservoirs.   

On July 20, 2023, the Department of Public Health has approved the permit, clearing the way for our agreement to go into effect. Read the agency’s decisionhere. 

“Water supply lands are of tremendous value for the present and future generations of Connecticut,” said Roger Reynolds, senior legal director for Save the Sound. “These lands are currently quasi-protected yet vulnerable to development, as their conservation is contingent on use of these reservoirs for water supply. This agreement adds an important layer of protection for human health, wildlife habit, water quality, and recreational access. The best way to protect the purity of future water supply is to permanently conserve the lands necessary to protect them.”  

Protecting this large forest tract in its current state will also maintain the reservoir as a pristine source of freshwater downstream for the West Branch of the Farmington River. The cold-water releases provided by the Colebrook Reservoir through Goodwin Dam have fostered a recreational fishery that is one of the best in the nation as well as a vibrant paddling community.  

A building next to a lake

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Goodwin Dam gatehouse and the West Branch, or “Hogsback,” Reservoir.

MDC’s rights to 10 BG of water storage space in the Colebrook Reservoir/West Branch Reservoir system come through a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Upon termination of the contract, MDC will no longer have rights to the storage area nor the financial obligations that follow.  If an abandonment permit is granted, MDC will continue to hold rights to 6.5 BG of water between the two reservoirs. A permanent conservation easement would ensure that this abandonment permit (if approved by DPH) and any future changes to the status of the remaining water resources in this watershed do not result in changes to the conservation status of the surrounding lands.  

Under the terms of the new agreement, the Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy (NCLC) will purchase a conservation easement on 5,500 acres of MDC-owned land for $1 million. MDC will be permitted to continue its existing uses of the property. New public access to the property will be allowed for passive recreation such as hunting, fishing, hiking, and boating, subject to NCLC and DPH approval. Residential, industrial, commercial, and other forms of development will not be allowed.  

Save the Sound submitted comments on behalf of itself, NCLC, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, Farmington River Watershed Association, Connecticut Land Conservation Council, and The Nature Conservancy to DPH in support of MDC’s move to give up a portion of its water rights, noting the environmental benefits—particularly the potential for unrestricted water flow downriver, which, especially during low flow conditions, could improve aquatic life, river water quality, and ecological diversity within the downstream reaches of the river. In addition, the conservation easement on the lands will help to maintain “raw drinking water quality” in the remainder of the reservoir’s supply for potential future use. Pursuant to the agreement, DPH issued a decision on MDC’s abandonment permit request on or about July 20.  

Further reading:

Action Opportunities:

Last Updated: December 4, 2023

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