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On Monday, Connecticut celebrated World Water Day by holding a virtual event to recognize the personal connections that residents have to Connecticut’s water sources.

World Water Day is an international event first started by the United Nations in 1993 to raise awareness of the lack of access to clean water many people face. This year’s event was co-hosted by seven Connecticut environmental organizations and included remarks from government officials. In line with this year’s international UN theme of “Valuing Water: What Does Water Mean To You?” the event invited four panelists to talk about their perspectives on the significance of water to humanity’s survival. The event was moderated by Alicea Charamut, the executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut — one of the environmental groups that organized the event.

“Water and its value to us as individuals often varies based on where we live, what our life experiences are and how we interact with water on a daily basis,” Charamut said. “World Water Day is a day to focus on water. This year’s theme of “What Does Water Mean To You?” makes it personal.”

The event started with brief remarks by Gov. Ned Lamont, who talked about water as a valuable natural resource to the state.

“Texas has oil. California has silicon. Connecticut has water,” Lamont said. “We have the tastiest champagne of waters. We have the beautiful Long Island Sound. We got the Connecticut River. We’re going to keep them pure. We’re going to keep them clean.”

Jack Betkoski, chair of the CT State Water Planning Council, also spoke on Monday about water conservation efforts by the state government. The council was created in 2001 by the Connecticut General Assembly to address issues regarding the state’s water quality. The council released a State Water Plan in 2019, which includes a list of recommendations for balancing the state’s water supply.

In particular, Betkoski spoke of the need for drought controls in response to the “very heavy drought situation” that Connecticut experienced last fall. For nearly six months, from last June until last December, the state experienced worsening drought conditions due to below average rainfall.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, spoke about the value of bodies of water in her district, namely the Long Island Sound — which she said was the state’s “largest and most important natural resource.” According to DeLauro, the sound contributes around $5.5 billion to the regional economy every year and over 8 million people live around the sound’s watershed. The Long Island Sound was designated as an “estuary of national significance” by Congress in 1987.

“These waters are a national treasure,” DeLauro said. “And we have the responsibility to ensure their protection and preservation.”

The event then shifted to a panel discussion with four panelists: Pamela “Screeching Hawk” Massey, a member of the Mohegan tribe; Hailey Baranowski, a student at the University of Connecticut; Lee Cruz, director of community outreach for the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven; and Kimberly Sandor, the executive director of the CT Nurses Association.

Massey spoke about how water was deeply connected to the traditions and survival of the Mohegan tribe. The Mohegan tribe is a sovereign, federally recognized Native American tribe situated in southeastern Connecticut. Massey said that the tribe used the nearby waters of the Connecticut shoreline for fishing, trade and transportation. She also said the waters continue to be an important food source for the tribe.

Sandor spoke about how water plays an important role in connecting environmental health to physical health. In particular, she spoke about the Flint water crisis in Michigan — which showed that water quality is not only an environmental issue, but is also a critical component to individual health.

“We know human life is affected by the state of the natural world and all that surrounds us,” Sandor said. “The environment’s influence on not only promoting health but preventing disease is really critical.”

Cruz talked about efforts happening locally in New Haven to increase awareness about the rivers connected to the city. He highlighted the development of the Mill River Trail, which increases accessibility to the Mill River. Cruz also mentioned how rivers can foster economic development through programs such as GreenWave’s regenerative ocean farming model that allows for shellfish and seaweed to be grown underwater with zero inputs of pesticides or fertilizers.

Baranowski spoke on the significance of actively maintaining the upkeep of water areas for both human and wildlife benefits. She said that she often sees water as providing a space for communities to come together and wanted future generations to also enjoy the recreational benefits of clean water.

“My generation deserves to know that what they are drinking and bathing in is safe and clean for them,” Baranowski said. “Decision-makers need to focus on having clean water accessible for everyone and maintaining the safety of that water continuously for my generation and every other generation after.”

The event concluded with remarks by Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy on domestic and international water efforts. It also included a performance by Cyril the Water Wizard, who shares messages about water conservation and sustainability through his magic shows.

According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut has about 6,000 miles of streams and rivers and over 2,000 lakes and reservoirs.

Sai Rayala | sai.rayala@yale.edu