TOLLAND, CT — Connecticut Water Co. officials said Thursday they are seeking state Department of Public Health approval to resume the boating portion of the Company’s DPH-permitted recreation program at the Shenipsit Lake Reservoir.
The program would be carried out "in a way that minimizes the risks to Connecticut Water employees, program participants, lake activity monitors and the public," officials said.
"Our No. 1 priority is health and safety. That priority drives everything we do, including the Shenipsit Lake Reservoir Recreation Program," said Maureen P. Westbrook, president of Connecticut Water. "We are pleased that we are able to continue to offer shoreline fishing and hiking and resume boating in a way that addresses safety and health concerns related to the storage and administration of the boating program."
As part of discussions Wednesday with town leaders from Ellington, Tolland and Vernon, here are the highlights:
Begin offering boating with a "phased approach" with lake monitors on site and fishing from boats permitted four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, with set hours of operation.
Consistent with guidelines at state parks and state and federal recommendations for social distancing, initially there will be a 50 percent reduction in the number of boats that can be stored on site, allowing for the use of 24 storage spaces.
The number of boats and hours of operation for boating will continue to be reviewed and revised as CDC or state COVID-19 guidelines change.
Personal protection equipment and safety measures will be in place to protect the monitors and the public.
The monitors will be provided with electronic devices to use rather than paper logs and strict procedures will be in place for disinfecting any common surfaces and potential points of contact.
There will be changes to the process for the initial boat registration and quarantine to avoid the need for people to congregate at the site.
Boats will need to be quarantined for 48 hours at the boat storage area before being used on the reservoir to protect water quality, and owners storing their boats must use their boats at least twice per month to keep their spot at the boat storage area.
Lakeshore property owners will be contacted with information on how obtain a recreation program boating sticker for the season.
Fishing from designated shoreline areas and hiking will continue to be open, seven days a week, as they have been all season long.
Westbrook said, "We have seen heavy utilization of the shoreline fishing and hiking trails with year, with nearly 2,000 visitors recorded from April to June. It is clear that Connecticut residents continue to value and enjoy the recreational opportunities provided by the Company at Shenipsit Lake Reservoir, as they have for the past 26 years. We look forward to continuing this successful program and delivering the benefit for all the stakeholders for years to come."
Other recommended COVID-19 modifications to this year’s program to protect the monitors and participants include:
Social distancing of at least 6 feet is required.
Lake activity monitors and participants in immediate proximity of the monitors will be required to wear face coverings and take other safety precaution measures.
Electronic tablets will be used to record activity rather than paper logs.
Boaters will be asked to schedule in advance with the lake monitor a time interval to use their boat and to limit the overlap in scheduling with others accessing their boats at the storage area.
Any fishing derbies this season will require prior approval from CWC and DPH, and shall consider state guidelines in effect at the time and COVID-19 statistics for the two weeks prior to any proposed event.
Utility officials said the recommended measures have been shared by the Company with DPH, who has the authority to issue the permit subject to any terms or conditions the Commissioner deems necessary to maintain the purity of the water in such storage and distribution reservoir or aquifer protection areas. The statutes require that the water company, which is ultimately responsible for the quality of the water delivered to customers from their system, be the applicant for such permit.
Connecticut Water is one of only two public water utilities that allows boating on a public water supply reservoir and the only one that allows the public to participate in the program at no cost. The South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority also paused their boating program this season due to COVID-19.
Connecticut Water will continue to review the risks associated with all aspects of the program and adherence to the modified rules and may make further modifications, as necessary.
Town leaders, the CT DPH and the Shenipsit Lake Association will continue to meet monthly to discuss activities and any further modifications to the program.
Utility officials said, "To date there have been no concerns shared at those meetings regarding trash or other issues with the program activities. There has been a shared effort to reinstate the boating program as soon as possible and to continue this very successful public recreation program while protecting the public drinking water supply."
Before the boating program can resume, the CT DPH will need to review and approve Connecticut Water’s application to amend their existing recreation permit to allow for the boating portion of the program. The company will share the proposed permit application with the SLA and local officials, as well as an implementation timeline that will allow for the hiring and training of the lake activity monitors for the modified program. Connecticut Water will announce when the permit has been received and modified boating will be open which they expect to be on or about July 17th. Updated information will be available at www.ctwater.com.