Dear Friends of Lake Waramaug -
DOES ANYONE OWN THE LAKE?
When I am working around the lake, I often get the question,“Does anyone own the lake?” I attended a CT State Water Plan conference this winter, and most of the discussion at the daylong event was centered around the question, “Who owns Connecticut’s waters?” The plan was drafted and approved by the State Legislature because there was no guidance document that inventories our water resources and describes how Connecticut water is used. While Connecticut is blessed with an average of 50 inches of rain per year, there have also been severe drought years. The Plan sets up guidelines and strategies for the equitable distribution of water resources, especially during dry periods. It also includes provisions that recommend minimum stream flow standards needed to support healthy aquatic habitats. In short, The plan ensures that there will always be enough water for fish and faucet. The Governor is expected to approve the plan.
Believe it or not, the answer to the question “Who owns open water resources?” was first documented during the Roman Empire. It was proclaimed by law that nature was to be held in common for all; including air, fresh water and the seas. In the centuries following, this concept became known as the Public Trust Doctrine mandating that certain natural resources, such as the open waters of Connecticut, be preserved in perpetuity for public use and enjoyment.
The Public Trust Doctrine was promulgated in 1972 by the Connecticut General Assembly, and they declared: “there is a public trust in the air, water and other natural resources of the state of Connecticut and that each person is entitled to the protection, preservation and enhancement of the same.”
The Public Trust Doctrine empowers residents to protect their resources from degradation. While our state’s Public Trust Doctrine can be complicated from a legal perspective, Connecticut has truly embraced the public trust in natural resources by weaving its principles firmly into our laws, regulations and the clean-water-culture I often witness in the communities around the Lake. The public has expectations and rights to the life-sustaining benefits provided by common natural resources, and clean water benefits residents and communities well beyond the shores of Connecticut’s lakes.
So in the end, no one owns the lake; the Public Trust Doctrine confirms that we all do. Thank you for helping us preserve and improve the water quality in Lake Waramaug; after all, we all benefit from being good stewards of Connecticut’s waters.
Executive Director, Lake Waramaug Task Force