MERIDEN — A hydroponic farm in Berlin recently received City Council approval to access as much as 10,000 gallons per day of untreated water from the city.
H20Farm Berlin LLC, which owns 2107 Chamberlain Highway, Berlin, asked for access to a water main that runs between the Kenmere Reservoir and the Elmere Reservoir to obtain untreated water for agriculture. The city owns and operates the 20-inch main, which currently provides untreated water for fire protection.
H20Farm Berlin has a hydroponic lettuce growing operation in Guilford that has prohibitive energy costs, and plans to build greenhouses on the 19-acre Berlin property. The system uses large tubs to grow plants that will utilize the untreated water from the city’s 20-inch water main.
Hydroponics is the technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil, according to the National Agricultural Library.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Nicole Tomassetti told councilors the agreement will not cost the city anything and H2O will do all the work while paying the same fee for untreated water as they would for treated water.
The City Council’s authorization allows City Manager Tim Coon to execute and process documents to finalize the agreement.
“We have an agreement to use the untreated water supply,” said Chaim Tovia, general manager of H2O Berlin. “We had to break it down for Meriden. It’s in an enclosed environment. We don’t consume a lot of water. In 20 acres, you can have 20 homes. That’s 10 times what we’re using. There is only one well on the whole property.”
Tovia said the company had to seek approvals from the town of Berlin that took months, particularly convincing the neighbors the farm would not be an environmental hazard.
“We had to change a text amendment before their Planning and Zoning (commission),” he said. “The neighbors opposed the text amendment. They raised hell. It was a matter of knowledge. They were concerned about it interfering with the aquifer and causing pollution.”
With help from the commission, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the farming experts at UConn, H2OFarm Berlin was able to convince the neighbors they were environmental stewards.
“We are going the opposite way,” Tovia said. “We care about the environment. We don’t use open fields or throw fertilzer. We grow in water tubs. It took six months to understand. We are trying to accomplish what hydroponics can mean for the future of agriculture. Why buy from California when you can get it fresh locally?”
The company hopes to begin the foundations of its greenhouses soon and open sometime next year. Phase I is four acres, and ultimately, plans call for using less than half the 19-acre parcel to grow lettuce and herbs for large grocery chains.
The plans to use the city’s water main had the backing of the City Council Public Works and Finance Committees.
According to City Councilor Larue Graham, the water main can hold 1 million gallons a day, while the hydroponic operation requires only 10,000 gallons.
“This resolution is basically renting out a well not in utilization,” Graham said. “We do have an out.”
Mayor Kevin Scarpati notified council members that there is a clause built in so that if the city experiences drought conditions, it can opt out of the agreement. City Councilor Dan Brunet supported the plan.
“This is good for the city,” Brunet said. “We have an excess of water. This will be an additional $60,000 to $70,000 a year to the city.”