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Connecticut River Watershed Council

posted May 11, 2016, 8:48 AM by Unknown user   [ updated May 11, 2016, 8:52 AM ]
Since its founding in 1952, the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) has collaboratively worked to improve the health of the 11,000 square mile watershed in its purview “from source to sea.” Although watershed-scale planning may seem like a no brainer today, the multi-state approach adopted by the CRWC over 60 years ago was novel at the time. CRWC is headquartered in Greenfield, MA, but also has staff and an extensive network of volunteers and partners in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.

The Connecticut River derives its name from the Algonquian word quinetucket meaning “long tidal river.” From its headwaters at the Fourth Connecticut Lake, a glacial pond on the ridgeline between New Hampshire and Quebec, the River flows 410 miles through four New England states before draining into the Long Island Sound. In 1998, The Connecticut was designated as an American Heritage River by President Bill Clinton.

Protecting New England’s largest river is no small feat. CRWC initially worked on documenting the ecological values of the Connecticut, such as providing habitat for the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon, and preventing pollutants like pesticides and sewage from entering the River. Now, CRWC’s work encompasses a broad array of restoration projects, educational outreach, water quality monitoring and policy research across the four-state watershed. CRWC’s VermontRiver Stewards are David Deen (Upper Valley and Southern Vermont) and Ron Rhodes (North Country). Both stewards bring a political background to their current positions- Deen with over 25 years of experience in the Vermont legislator and Rhodes through former work in government in Washington D.C. and Ohio government. Rhodes and Deen both also have fostered a strong connection to the River through their years as professional fly-fishing guides. Deen describes his unique job as: “resisting the bad things that could happen to the Connecticut River and celebrating the good things about the River.” The following are a taste of CRWC’s many projects in Vermont.

No More Deadbeats

Recently, the CRWC Vermont team has focused a lot of its energy on removing “deadbeat dams” along Connecticut tributaries to improve fish passage and restore river flow (click here for a video about their recent removal of the Franconia Paper Mill Dam). The mainstem of the Connecticut has 13 dams, while tributaries in the watershed have hundreds of smaller dams. CRWC currently is working on 6 dam removal projects in headwater streams in Vermont and New Hampshire to enable native fish to migrate upstream. CRWC and partners including Trout Unlimited, the Town of Dummerston and the USFWS recently received a VT Fish and Wildlife Grant to remove the Bagatelle Dam on a tributary of the West River this summer.

In addition to removing these remnants from our logging and small-scale hydropower past, CRWC also works to ensure that hydropower facilities up for re-licensing meet strict environmental and recreational requirements. CRWC offers formal comments, based on years of scientific research, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee when dams in the watershed are up for re-licensing. Ron Rhodes, a CRWC Vermont River Steward, said that CRWC strives to: “help bring landowners to the table (in re-licensing discussions) to ensure their voices are heard about erosion upstream of the dams and other issues. The end goal is that the new federal licenses take into account potential natural resource impacts and allow forcontinued river recreation (such as portages   around dams).”

Tree plantings, Poetry and Brews for the Connecticut

CRWC works with partners throughout the watershed to engage volunteers in completing critical (and fun!) projects. Every September, CRWC

rallies groups in VT, NH, CT and MA for Source to Sea, a weekend of river cleanups along the Connecticut and tributaries. In 2015, 141 local groups with more than 2,300 volunteers participated, hauling out over 50 tons of trash. Angela Mrozinski, CRWC’s Outreach and Events Director, said that after the cleanups, she loves: “hearing the stories and seeing photos of people out there doing good work for our rivers just because they care. It’s inspiring to think of thousands of people working separately yet still together across our watershed.” Aside from the tangible benefit of trash removal, CRWC also encourages groups to submit trash tallies that provide data used to support legislation such as more accessible tire recycling programs. Since 2015, WUV has coordinated with Source to Sea to provide watershed groups with the resources needed to host clean-ups around Vermont as part of River Clean-up month

CRWC also partners with local watershed associations, landowners and volunteer groups to hold tree plantingsthroughout the river basin. In the past four years, CRWC has planted over 11,000 trees in the Connecticut watershed. In Vermont, the plantings have been focused on rehabilitating riverbanks devastated by Tropical Storm Irene; for example, in 2014, CRWC and federal, state and non-profit partners planted 1,300 trees along a washed-out stretch of the Ottauquechee River near Billings Farm.

 In addition to these hands-on opportunities, CRWC staff come up with creative ways to spread the word about the great beauty of and the challenges present in the Connecticut River watershed. Recently, CRWC partnered with Greenfield, MA brewery The People’s Pint to raise funds and awareness about the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon with the release this March of the Shortnose Stout. CRWC’s River of Words provides educational programming that integrates ecology, poetry and history for students and teachers living in the Connecticut’s watershed. The Connecticut River Watershed Council continues to exemplify how an organization can balance watershed-scale thinking with on-the-ground, local solutions.