CRJC's April 15 letter of testimony to the Joint House and Senate Finance Committees 4/15/10
River Facts and Vermont Yankee - 2/23/10
key news items from the CRJC archives...
Invasive Diatom Discovered in the Connecticut River - 7/11/07 updated 7/19 and 7/20
Water Quality Monitoring Shows Recreation Safe in Connecticut River
Kayakers at Sumner Falls need no longer fear a dunking. Results from two years of sampling indicate that bacterial contamination is generally not a safety concern for recreation on the Lebanon-Cornish stretch of the Connecticut River, the Connecticut River Joint Commissions reported to the Lebanon City Council on Wednesday evening.
Speaking for the Commissions, Adair Mulligan said that the 14 mile section is currently designated by the State of New Hampshire as unsuitable for recreation due to the presence of combined sewer overflows in Lebanon and until recently, in Hartford. With the help of area volunteers and funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the River Commissions set out to test this, collecting samples during the summer recreation season in 2008 and 2009. Similar monitoring took place on the river in Massachusetts by project partners. Results were quickly posted on an interactive website for public accessibility.
In strong contrast to findings in southern Massachusetts, the New Hampshire/Vermont samples indicated that bacteria are rarely a problem for recreationists, although contamination did show up from time to time, especially during wet weather. The 2009 recreation season was all too memorable for heavy and prolonged rainstorms.
Local volunteers, trained by staff of the University of Massachusetts' Water Resources Research Center, monitored the river twice a week from June to September for two years. They sampled river water at 11 sites, from the Wilder Picnic Area and Lebanon's East Wilder Boat Launch downstream to North Star Canoes in Cornish and Wilgus State Park in Weathersfield. Samples were processed at Aquacheck Laboratory in Weathersfield. Special effort was aimed at Sumner Falls in Hartland, a favorite of kayakers who frequently immerse themselves in river water.
Bacteria contamination can come from combined sewer overflows and stormwater that has picked up contaminants, such as pet waste, before running off into the river. Investments by the City of Lebanon and the Town of Hartford to separate their stormwater and wastewater collection systems to prevent combined sewer overflows appear to be showing dividends in the level of bacteria pollution in the Connecticut River. The river is considered safe for swimming elsewhere in New Hampshire and Vermont, except for a 50 mile stretch in the North Country that indicated bacteria problems in 2004.
Mulligan advised that managing stormwater pollution is essential to good water quality in the river, and thanked the Lebanon Public Works Department for its cooperation with the study. CRJC's new Connecticut River Water Resources Management Plan recommends that communities encourage developers to use new and often inexpensive techniques for controlling runoff. Pet owners can pick up after their pets to keep waste out of stormwater that might travel to the river. Owners of property near water should encourage growth of natural shoreline vegetation to help capture pollutants.
New Hampshire Commission Threatened with Zero Funding - For twenty years, New Hampshire's Connecticut River Valley Resource Commission, working in tandem with its Vermont counterpart through the Connecticut River Joint Commissions, has led the way in safeguarding water resources and advancing heritage tourism in the watershed of the great Connecticut River. The Joint Commissions have restored eroded riverbanks, supported local agriculture, developed guidance for riverfront towns, advised state and federal agencies, sponsored the Connecticut River Scenic Byway.
With modest financial support from the State of New Hampshire ($57,900 in FY 10) and a comparable funds from Vermont, CRJC has been able to match federal grants and bring significant benefits to our watershed. For FY 11, CRJC has $520,000 in committed federal grants that the State of New Hampshire will lose if we are unable to provide the required matching funds.
Unfortunately, unless a change is made immediately to the Governor's proposed budget, that will happen. Those federal grants will be lost. The NH Connecticut River Commission and the Connecticut River Joint Commissions will cease to exist.
NH Office of Energy and Planning, to which our Connecticut River Valley Resource Commission is administratively attached, has elected to meet some of its required 10% budget reduction by proposing a 100% reduction for the Connecticut River Commission. This interpretation of the law (RSA 227-E) has never been made previously by the Office of Energy and Planning or its predecessor office. CRJC has lodged a vigorous protest.
On February 10, 2010, a similar threat appeared in Vermont when the Agency of Natural Resources proposed to meet its budget reduction target by zero funding the Connecticut River Commission. Legislators contacted Governor Douglas who quickly said, "I don't want to lose CRJC." We hope and believe that Governor Lynch entertains the same opinion.
CRJC encourages concerned citizens and officials to call their legislators. 4/13/10
CRJC staff has provided information to the Vermont Legislature on proposed dock and shoreland protection legislation. Speaking to the House Fish, Wildlife & Water Resources Committee, Conservation Director Adair Mulligan noted that Vermont remains the only state in the Northeastern US that does not provide statewide protection for its shorelines. Enactment of such protection, to balance shoreland laws that have been in effect on the New Hampshire side of the river for 20 years, is a key recommendation of the Connecticut River Water Resources Management Plan.
Control over docks is urgently needed on the Vermont side, as well. Except in the case of a very few river towns, there are no controls on the Vermont side, as exist on the opposite shore. Mulligan urged that regulations applying to the Connecticut River should apply to the entire Vermont shoreline of the river, not just impounded sections, and be consistent for all river shorefront owners, mirroring those in effect on the New Hampshire side. - 3/26/10
CRJC offers the following about the Connecticut River near the Vermont Yankee plant:
River in Three States: The plant is located on Vermont soil, but its activities directly affect the river in New Hampshire and Massachusetts:
Groundwater feeds the river's flow, and the river also feeds groundwater. While we do not expect that the public will be drinking tritium-contaminated water from the Connecticut River, and recognize that by the time it reaches Vernon the flow of this large river will dilute this contamination, there is potential for ecological effects from this additional burden on river life. The Vernon pool is well-known as an important resting area for migratory waterfowl, and is recognized as part of the Middle Connecticut River Important Bird Area. The birds, fish, and mammals (otter, mink) feeding here are a potential vector for movement of contaminants upstream as well as downstream from Vernon.
River temperature: Vermont Yankee discharges heated water to the river, after using river water to help control temperatures in the plant. There are water temperature gages located above and below the plant, and the plant appears to be operating within its limits. The effect is noticeable to anyone who paddles through this area - the water feels like a bathtub. This part of the river also receives runoff that is warmed in summer by flow over hot pavement. Warmer water holds less oxygen, and is therefore less hospitable to fish and other river life, such as the migrating shad and Atlantic salmon who pass through the Vernon impoundment. The proposal to increase activity at Vermont Yankee by 20% in future years includes a proposal to increase the temperature of the discharge to the river, to avoid the cost of using fans in the cooling towers.
Flooding: The Vernon pool is subject to flooding, despite the presence of flood control dams on tributaries upstream. In October, 2005, high water washed docks and boats over Vernon Dam just downstream from Vermont Yankee. Nuclear waste is now stored here on the banks of New England's largest river.
Fish tissue studies of the Connecticut River, conducted by EPA and the four watershed states' fish and wildlife agencies, indicate that river life in the Vernon area already carries a pollution burden significant enough to threaten the recreational fishery. Studies released in 2000, in response to a recommendation of CRJC's 1997 Connecticut River Management Plan, report that in this reach, dioxin-like PCBs are present in fish at a level that poses a risk to recreational and subsistence anglers and to fish-eating mammals and birds. DDT and related breakdown products, dioxins, and furans are also present and an additional threat to subsistence fishermen.
The economic benefit of river-related recreation and tourism is significant. We note that several people interviewed for recent news articles have said that they will no longer turn to the Connecticut River for recreation. A 2007 study in New Hampshire, that included interviews with recreationists at Hinsdale's Prospect Street Boat Launch on the Connecticut River, found that 68% of anglers, boaters and swimmers say they would decrease their intended visits to the Connecticut River and other water bodies in this part of the state if water clarity and purity diminished. Those recreationists who would leave the state for this reason would create a loss of about 21,000 visitor days in the region and a loss of about half a million dollars in business sales.
National Scenic Byway - The Connecticut River is the centerpiece of the Connecticut River National Scenic Byway, an economic development initiative that is drawing dollars to the valley. Notoriety from this site could affect marketing efforts for the New Hampshire/Vermont portion of the Byway, and also for Massachusetts' newly designated Byway just downstream.
The Connecticut River Joint Commissions, are designated by the legislatures of Vermont and New Hampshire as advisory to state agencies, legislatures and the public on matters affecting the Connecticut River. Our 2009 Connecticut River Water Resources Management Plan called upon federal and state agencies to ...
...cooperate to ensure the safety of Vermont Yankee and limit the temperature of its discharge to New Hampshire waters. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should reconsider its findings relative to Vermont Yankee and conduct a thorough safety inspection, inviting closely neighboring states to participate. Vermont should reconsider the propriety of applying mitigation funds outside the affected watershed, and should invite advice and comment from New Hampshire in recognition of New Hampshire's responsibilities for the Connecticut River and the shared responsibility of the two states for communities within the impact zone of Vermont Yankee.
Protection from flood damage will be the subject of a series of meetings in towns along the Ammonoosuc River between October 13 and November 5. Dr. John Field will meet with planning and select boards and conservation commissions in a joint session in each town to present findings of his Ammonoosuc River assessment. He will also explain how to use the detailed erosion hazard maps being prepared for each town.
On Tuesday evening, Sept. 22, Dr. John Field presented the results of his geomorphology assessment of the Ammonoosuc River to over 60 citizens from all over the region. The study, sponsored by the Connecticut River Joint Commissions, searched for riverbanks threatened by erosion, causes of channel instability, and places where floodplain conservation or riverbank restoration could lead to an even healthier river.
"While the summer's heavy rains delayed field work," reported Dr. Field, "it's clear that most of the Ammonoosuc River offers excellent habitat and is in beautiful condition, with little severe erosion."
"The worst flooding and erosion problems," he continued, "are where the river valley suddenly narrows or widens, where tributaries enter, and especially where the channel has been artificially straightened." He discovered a number of reaches where the river was moved in the late 1800s and early 1900s, such as against the hillside east of the Littleton meadow and also between Salmon Hole and Lisbon village.
Such straightening, often to "get the river out of the way" of the railroad, to ease log drive operations, or for other now-forgotten reasons, has expensive repercussions a century later. One effect is the erosion at the Lisbon Middle School soccer field, easily visible from Route 302.
Dr. Field and his staff have walked the entire length of the river with a hand-held computer, noting bank height, erosion, presence of riprap, channel migration evidence, riparian buffer condition, invasive plants, and much more. This information will be used to create maps of erosion hazards for each of the seven towns through which the river flows.
NCC and the LAC will follow up to help their towns in using the study results and maps to guide future development. The Ammonoosuc River Local Advisory Committee (LAC), assisted by North Country Council (NCC), will use the study results to develop a river corridor management plan.
The Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust hopes to work with willing landowners to consider conservation that could help ensure a stable river with high quality habitat. The Connecticut River Joint Commissions will seek funding to address a high priority erosion site for restoration.
Support for this project came from the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and from NH DES for Watershed Assistance for High Quality Waters. Final results and maps will be posted on the Connecticut River Joint Commissions' website at www.crjc.org/erosion.htm.
Dr. Field's upcoming meetings with river town municipal boards are open to the public:
Connecticut River Water Quality Monitoring Project to Launch New Website - Before going out for a paddle or swim, recreational users of the Connecticut River are able to check the Internet for up-to-date water quality information on three segments of the river. In the Upper Valley region, river users from Lebanon, N.H. and Hartford, Vt. to Claremont and Ascutney have access to new water data. In Massachusetts, information is available for Hatfield to Northfield and Longmeadow to Holyoke. The new Web site at http://www.cesd.umass.edu/TWI/TWI_Projects/Water_Quality_Monitoring/ provides a map with color-coded place markers for each sampling location indicating the suitability of the water for swimming or boating. Clicking on a place marker brings up a window with the latest sampling data, a bar graph display of recent samples, and photos of the location.
The availability of this information is the result of a water quality monitoring project conducted by the University of Massachusetts Water Resources Research Center in partnership with the Connecticut River Joint Commissions, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. The water quality monitoring project is one of 10 Connecticut River projects funded under a $953,000 Targeted Watershed Initiative grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, matched by $458,000 in local funding commitments. Descriptions for all other project components can be seen at http://www.cesd.umass.edu/TWI/.
Until recently, only limited water quality information has been available for the Connecticut River. This information has indicated that in many urbanized areas the river's bacterial contamination is so high during wet weather events-due to combined sewer overflow discharges and to urban stormwater flows-that it does not meet standards for recreational uses. The good news is that water quality seems to be improving.
The monitoring project has been examining water temperature and bacteria at 26 sites along the river. Data provides a more complete picture of the river's health and understanding about sources of contamination. This is useful not only to recreational users who have direct contact with the waters, but to local, state, and federal officials in addressing combined sewer overflow discharges and stormwater flows.
Water quality monitoring is currently in its second year in these three river reaches. Information is posted within 24 hours of monitoring so that recreational users can make informed decisions about their activities on the river.
For the monitoring project, CRJC and the Water Resources Research Center have been fortunate to have the help of a number of dedicated volunteers, including members of CRJC's river subcommittees and area conservation commissions. If you would like more information, please call Adair Mulligan of the Connecticut River Joint Commissions at: (603) 795-2104.
CRJC Hosts Program on New NH Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act - The public is invited to learn about changes to New Hampshires Shoreland Protection Act at the next meeting of the Connecticut River Joint Commissions (CRJC), Monday, Nov. 24, at 1:30 p.m. at the Howe Library in Hanover, N.H.
Arlene Allen, shoreland outreach coordinator for the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, will make the presentation.
The updated act applies to the Connecticut River, other fourth-order and larger streams and rivers, and lakes and ponds in New Hampshire. It includes easier-to-understand riparian buffer protection, a standard building setback, and incentives to help reduce stormwater runoff problems. Allen will detail the new rules, including , the permit system and activities that do not need a permit.
CRJC supported the legislatures updating the shoreland act. The new law includes better public outreach and education and eliminates confusion for towns about who should be enforcing the state law, which has been on the books since 1992 but was poorly enforced and publicized. CRJC also recommends adoption of similar laws in Vermont, still the only state in the Northeast that does not have statewide shoreland protection.
More information on the Shoreland Protection Act may be found here.- 11/12/08
Tri-state Watershed Initiative to Improve the Connecticut River Kicks Off - This week, five partner organizations in three states, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, kicked off a multi-year $1.4 million project to improve the Connecticut River by addressing bacterial pollution problems, stormwater, combined sewer overflows, riverbank erosion, agricultural runoff, and pollution from growth and development. The project is funded under a $953,000 Targeted Watershed Initiative grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, matched by $458,000 in local funding commitments. The project is led by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and includes major partner organizations, the Connecticut River Joint Commissions, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, University of Massachusetts Water Resources Research Center and US Geological Survey, as well as 18 other cooperating partners.
The Connecticut River is New England's longest river, running 410 miles, and with a huge watershed that encompasses 11,260 square miles, including 38 major rivers and is home to about 2 million residents. The watershed also includes New England's most productive farmlands, a vital waterfowl migration route along the Atlantic flyway, and habitat for anadromous shad, Atlantic salmon and the endangered shortnose sturgeon.
Project Need - The Connecticut River still has significant water quality problems, particularly combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which prevent the river from achieving federal Class B fishable/swimmable water quality standards. Clean-up costs are very high, estimated at $325 million for CSOs in Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke alone, but the benefits of cleaner water will also be enormous. Other water quality impairments include erosion, sedimentation, mercury and PCBs which render fish consumption unsafe, agricultural runoff, urban stormwater, malfunctioning septic systems, and runoff from forestry operations. - 7/29/08
River Subcommittee Members, CRJC Commissioners Receive President's Volunteer Service Award -Members of the five local river subcommittees of CRJC and CRJC commissioners have been honored with the Presidents Volunteer Service Award for their work on water quality, recreation, and other issues regarding the river. CRJC's new president, Beverly Major of Westminster, Vermont, was also honored as Vermont's Volunteer.
The awards were given by EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson in a ceremony on Earth Day, April 22, held at Boston's Faneuil Hall.
Today we honor these New Hampshire leaders for answering President Bushs call to serve a cause greater than themselves, Johnson said at the Boston ceremony. Dedicated volunteers like these are inspiring others to join them in delivering America a brighter, healthier future.
Mrs. Major, a long-time representative of agricultural interests on the Vermont river commission, was recognized for her many volunteer contributions to the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association and to many civic efforts in her community of Westminster, in addition to her work for the Connecticut River. Later that week, she was honored by Governor Douglas as Vermont's Community Volunteer of the Year.
Mrs. Major and Adair Mulligan, CRJC Conservation Director, who manages the work of the 80 local subcommittee volunteers, accepted the honors in Boston on behalf of the subcommittees and commissioners.
The subcommittee and commissioners recently completed work on the water resources and recreation sections of the Connecticut River Management Plan that will be published by CRJC. As the local voice for the Connecticut River, the subcommittees review river-related permits, advise CRJC on regional issues, and help shape work being done on the river by state and federal agencies. Members are appointed by town select boards and city councils in riverfront communities and include representatives of agriculture, business, conservation, recreation, government, and riverfront landowners. New members are welcome, and the meetings are always open to the public. 4/30/08
CRJC Proposes New Alternative for Conte Refuge - The Connecticut River Joint Commissions, Upper Valley Land Trust, and Connecticut River Watershed Council have proposed a new Alternative E as the way forward for the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The Conte Refuge is in the midst of preparing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan. Public comment is due to the Conte Refuge by January 30. Click here for the proposed new alternative. 1/16/08
The states have issued an alert that the invasive diatom Didymosphenia geminate ("Didymo") has been found along the northern reaches of the Connecticut River as well as in the White River near Bethel, Vermont. A local fishing guide discovered the invasive alga in Bloomfield, Vermont, which was later confirmed by the Vermont Natural Resources Agency. This is the first positive identification of the alga in the eastern United States. Until now, Didymo has been known only from northwestern North America. NH DES reported on 7/20 that an algal mass observed by one of CRJC's Headwaters Subcommittee members near Indian Stream in Pittsburg is also Didymo.
Because of the extremely invasive nature of this organism, scientists and experts from across the region are working together to address the threat of further spreading. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that this alga is the only freshwater diatom to exhibit large scale invasive behavior that alters food webs and affects the hydraulics of streams and rivers.
In other rivers that have been invaded by Didymo, large blooms form thick mats of cottony material on stream and river bottoms. The mats can suffocate aquatic plants and obliterate fish habitat. Dense mats of didymo can harm populations of the aquatic insects that are an important source of food for trout and other fish.
Sadly, said Adair Mulligan, CRJC Conservation Director, This invasive organism has been discovered in the one section of the Connecticut River that is designated 'natural,' and where the states are working toward restoration of the wild brook trout population.
There is currently no way to control or eliminate didymo which is why the prevention of further spread of the alga is imperative. The following precautions must be adhered to by all recreationalists, such as anglers and paddlers, to help stop the spread of Didymo to other streams and rivers:
The state agencies are inviting observers to send in samples. For more information, click here. 7/17/07, updated 8/2/07
EPA Finds Risks in Eating Connecticut River Fish -Samples of fish taken in the Connecticut River were high in mercury and other contaminants, posing a risk to anglers and others, including wildlife, who eat the fish, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported to the Connecticut River Joint Commissions.
The Connecticut River Fish Tissue Contaminant Study focused on potential risks to human and wildlife of eating fish along the entire 410-mile river. It is the first time fish samples were analyzed on such a scale, and tested for mercury, PCBs, dioxins, DDT, and other chemicals. Fish sampled were smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and white suckers. The study was undertaken in 2000, a result of a recommendation contained in CRJC's Connecticut River Corridor Management Plan.
The study confirmed earlier findings that mercury levels in Connecticut River fish may pose a risk to human health. Those particularly at risk are anglers who live off the fish they catch, pregnant women, women of childbearing age who might become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children. Mercury was particularly high in fish taken from the northern reaches of the river, including in the Headwaters region and above Moore Dam.
The study also founds risks for some fish-eating wildlife, as contaminants move up the food chain from organic matter and plankton to fish and then fish eaters like eagles and kingfishers. In presenting the study, EPA scientist Greg Hellyer also noted that recent research by others is also revealing high levels of mercury in wildlife with no direct connection to fish. Examples include the Bicknell's thrush, an endangered species that breeds in the high peaks of the White Mountains.
Mercury reaches New England mainly on the wind, carried from the smokestacks of Midwest coal-burning power plants. Hellyer noted that local municipal waste incinerators had been a major source of pollutants, but emission controls have cut mercury by 55 percent. New Hampshire, Vermont, and other New England states have adopted strict smokestack emissions standards.
"The magic is starting to leave the North Woods when you can't eat the fish, and the landscape is starting to die," said Hank Swan, speaking for the joint commissioners. Swan, a commissioner from Lyme, N.H., is the former general partner of Wagner Woodlands, and chaired The Nature Conservancy's New Hampshire chapter. "Where is the federal leadership [on emissions]? That's the problem," he said.
Swan also raised the question of comparing the cost of installing emissions controls to the costs of greater public health problems, the loss of tourism revenue, and the loss of people's enjoyment of the outdoors.
David Deen, a Vermont legislator from Westminster and river steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council, called for an update of the study in five years. He noted the persistence of DDT, a pesticide banned more than 30 years ago, that still shows up is fish tissue. He also called on people to stop backyard burning of trash and other debris. Such burning, though illegal, is a source of dioxin, another toxic substance found in the fish studied.
CRJC issued a fact sheet on how residents can identify sources of mercury in their homes and steps they can take to keep mercury from entering the environment. Vermont and New Hampshire state advisories on fish consumption are also on the CRJC Web site.
The EPA noted weaknesses in the study design that it recommends be addressed in future studies. These include larger sample sizes and more species tested, particularly in the Headwaters, and that individual fish samples be tracked so specific sources of pollutants may be pursued. This study only addressed the main stem of the Connecticut; subsequent analyses should include the tributaries, both the EPA and CRJC commissioners said.
"EPA and the many partners who sponsored the Connecticut River Fish Tissue Contaminant Study have done a real service in helping us understand the level of toxins in Connecticut River fish, and in turn improved our understanding of the sources of those toxins and the ways by which they can be curbed, " said CRJC Executive Director Sharon Francis.
The idea for the study came originally from CRJC's Mt. Ascutney Region River Subcommittee. Proposed by the representative from Springfield, VT, who was an avid fisherman, the idea made its way into the 1997 Connecticut River Corridor Management Plan as a riverwide recommendation. "The impetus for this study is a prime example of why we believe volunteer citizen-based planning is essential to the future of the river," said Francis.
All four Connecticut River states - New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut - plus the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission joined EPA in sponsoring the study. - 10/30/06
For further information:
With the forecast for more frequent, heavy storms as global warming proceeds, it's becoming even more important to stay safely out of the way of rivers and streams. While we can't do much about what comes out of the sky, we can affect what happens to the buckets of rain when they arrive. Yes, we have flood control dams and large impoundments, but dealing effectively with the natural and often messy habits of rivers and streams also takes the cooperation of local governments and landowners. Here's the good news - we can do something to lessen the chances of destructive flooding.
Slow it down and soak it up. Make your yard a sponge. Landowners everywhere can keep brooks from flash flooding by helping rain to soak into the ground instead of rushing off to create trouble. Instead of paving, use porous materials such as stones set in gravel for patios and other places where hard surfaces are desired. Direct downspouts toward flat, well-vegetated areas, rather than toward pavement.
Let native plants help. Landowners along every stream, large or small, can protect their property from flood damage by using nature's own armor. If you have trees and shrubs along your streambank, leave them alone to do the job of absorbing water and protecting the bank against erosion. Cutting down trees and shrubs to clear a view invites damage to the shoreline when the water rises. If you have a lawn or crops close to the bank, allow a riparian buffer (natural stream side vegetation, at least 50 feet wide) to grow back, or consider planting one. A buffer on your piece of streambank will save wear and tear on your property. Some riverfront properties may qualify for cost sharing for riparian buffer planting. Call your county conservation district for information.
Let wetlands do their job. One of the reasons we're experiencing such severe effects of heavy storms is that so many wetlands, nature's sponges, have been filled for development and can no longer absorb water. The hundreds of small wetlands eliminated over the last 50-75 years add up to a lot of water that now runs off to create flooding rather than slowly sinking into the ground. Acres of forests and fields which also once helped absorb water are now paved over with parking lots, warehouse stores, and roads. Urge your town to keep development away from wetlands.
Check those culverts. A blocked culvert can act as a dam. Clean out any blockages on your property and call your town road agent if you notice a problem on a road. Many towns have found out the hard way that culverts and bridges may be under-sized and unable to handle all the water that comes their way in a very heavy rain storm. A failed and flooded culvert becomes an immediate public safety hazard. Your regional planning commission can help with a bridge and culvert survey to identify potential problem spots.
Stay out of the way. Many people assume that it is illegal to build in a flood plain, the place a river visits during high water. Surprisingly, most towns still allow building here as long as certain construction practices are followed. Flood plains may look pretty tame most of the year, or even for many years, but they are dangerous places to be when the water finally comes. Water prevented from spreading out on one flood plain because it's been developed will pay a more destructive visit downstream, often ripping up the riverbank on its way. The solution is to avoid investing in a dangerous place by not building there.
End the temptation for flood plain development. Towns have the ability to forbid construction in flood plains. Groveton voters made this smart choice at town meeting a few years ago, following recommendations of the Connecticut River Corridor Management Plan, and the examples of other towns along the river. Towns that still allow building in the flood plain should take a fresh look at this policy and take greater responsibility for flood control, and for the safety and welfare of their own citizens and those down river.
While many towns have now adopted building setbacks from waterways, this may not do the whole job rivers don't use measuring tapes. Local planning boards can help by limiting impervious surfaces and requiring stormwater management features in construction projects they review.
But what about those dams that are supposed to protect us? Following the 1936 flood, Congress sent the U.S. Army Corps out to build flood control dams in our watershed. Seven dams and $43 million dollars later, the Corps is now able to curb flood levels on 13 percent of the over 7,000 square miles of the Connecticut River's watershed in New Hampshire and Vermont. However, rivers and streams will be up to the same old tricks on the remaining 87 percent.
Many people believe that Comerford and Moore, the massive hydro dams at Fifteen Mile Falls, will provide flood control. Indeed, they offer substantial water storage: huge Moore Reservoir can be raised 40 feet. However, heavy rains last fall exceeded even this capacity, and floodwaters spilled over Comerford Dam, inundating the Newbury-Haverhill area. These dams, which were not built for flood control, also can't help communities upstream such as Lancaster. Below Comerford, there is very little storage capacity because the river flattens out and the dams are much smaller.
The Connecticut River Joint Commissions offer free guidance for landowners on ways to manage their property to protect against flooding. Look for our Homeowner's Guide to Nonpoint Source Pollution and our riparian buffer guidance on the web at www.crjc.org/managingland.htm. For more information, call CRJC at 603-826-4800.
Cast your vote for natural flood protection by keeping a buffer on your property, and by supporting your town in keeping flood plains open and ready to do their job. When the Big One comes, you'll be glad you did.
Connecticut River Byway Named a National Scenic Byway - The Connecticut River Byway, running from Brattleboro, Vt. to Pittsburg, N.H. has been named a National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
A delegation of New Hampshire and Vermont officials representing the Connecticut River Byway Council accepted the award at a ceremony Thursday, Sept. 22 in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, Sept. 23, Vermont Commissioner of Tourism Bruce Hyde, New Hampshire Director of Travel and Tourism Alice DeSouza, and commissioners and staff of the Connecticut River Joint Commissions (CRJC) met at the historic Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, the longest two-lane covered bridge in the world, to celebrate the announcement.
"I commend the Connecticut River Joint Commissions for its efforts in making this federal designation a reality," said New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch in a statement from his office. "Working in collaboration with Vermont to promote the cultural, historic and natural assets along the Connecticut River will increase economic vitality in both of our states."
This is very exciting news and will be enormously important for both tourism and economic development in this region, said Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas from his office. In August, Governor Lynch and I toured cultural heritage sites along the byway on both sides of the Connecticut River and renewed our commitment that our two great states would work together to promote the entire Connecticut River Byway. The National Scenic Byway designation will give those efforts an enormous boost.
The awarding of national designation follows a long and competitive application process, according to Sharon Francis, executive director of CRJC, which oversees the Connecticut River Byway Council. We know we have a river valley with outstanding scenery and impressive history, but it is sweet news to hear that we are among the winners in a national competition. Im sure that our waypoint interpretive centers helped give the Connecticut River Byway an edge.
The Connecticut River Byway, which stretches from the Canadian border to Massachusetts, follows 500 miles of state highways in 53 communities along the river valley in Vermont and New Hampshire. The byway embraces traditional New England historic and cultural sites which tell the story of the nations first explorations into the wilderness, first transportation corridor, and the initial expansion of American culture.
The Connecticut River Byway includes nine waypoint centers where visitors may learn about the river valleys history, culture, arts, and recreational opportunities, as well as local lodging, dining, and entertainment. The waypoint centers are in Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, Windsor, St. Johnsbury, and White River Junction, Vt., and Claremont, Lancaster, and Colebrook, N.H. Wells River, Vt. and Woodsville, N.H. share a waypoint center located in Wells River.
Americas Byways, of which the Connecticut River Byway is now a part, is a distinct collection of American roads and treasured places recognized for their scenic, historic, natural, recreational, cultural and archeological qualities. Congress created the National Scenic Byways Program in 1991 to meet widespread demand that the nations unique places should be preserved and shared while at the same time promoting tourism and economic development by bringing tourists to rural America and much-needed dollars to small communities.
Since its inception, the Americas Byways has provided $206 million for 1,495 projects in 48 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. In New Hampshire, the program also recognizes the White Mountain Trail and Kancamagus Scenic Byway. The Connecticut River Byway is the first national scenic byway in Vermont.
The Connecticut River Byway Council represents both states as well as regional planning commissions, communities, businesses, and groups interested in recreation, natural resources, cultural resources, and agriculture. Its purpose is to balance the preservation, promotion, enjoyment, and stewardship of the Connecticut River Valley.
Results in from Major River Water Quality Study - Results of the most comprehensive river water quality assessment undertaken in New Hampshire were delivered to the Connecticut River Joint Commissions by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services in Lebanon on January 31st. Ted Walsh, Coordinator of DES' Volunteer River Assessment Program, presented the results of this major study, undertaken last summer at forty five sampling locations. A summary of results for each of the 45 assessment units is posted here. (please be patient; pdf file)
Under the microscope was the safety of the Connecticut River for recreation, including swimming, and the conditions for aquatic life. Results indicate a river that is largely in fine condition, especially for dissolved oxygen, although there are several areas of concern for harmful bacteria in some of the most popular canoeing waters in the North Country.
DES undertook this ambitious study at the request of the Connecticut River Joint Commissions, who are engaged with their five local river subcommittees in updating the Connecticut River Management Plan. CRJC learned that the state had little or no information about the safety of swimming and other river recreation, or about the quality of aquatic habitat, for over 100 of the 275 miles of river in New Hampshire, and asked for help in filling this knowledge gap.
DES responded with a well-organized and intensive effort during the summer of 2004, sampling five times at each of 45 different locations for the presence of E. coli bacteria, and testing 12 times at each site for dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, and conductivity. Walsh noted that the study collected 50,000 data points, all of which had to be double checked for accuracy. Because bacteria samples had to be rushed within six hours to the DES lab in Concord, the handling of water collected from Fourth Connecticut Lake at the end of a trail on the Canadian border, for example, required some careful advance planning.
"This effort has been quite a demonstration of choreography, including arranging for quality control, sampling timing, and transport to the lab," observed Sharon Francis, CRJC Executive Director. "CRJC is very grateful for this work."
Swimming safe in most of the river
In most places, and at most times, the river today is clean enough for swimming, but there are still areas and weather conditions where swimming is not advised. Bacteria can reach rivers through poorly functioning septic systems or drainage from areas where animals are concentrated, whether they are moose or cows, especially where they have direct access to a tributary or the river itself. Bacteria can also reach rivers through runoff, such as stormwater washing over a city street where dog walkers do not pick up after their pets, and especially through combined sewer overflows, where runoff from heavy storms can overwhelm a wastewater treatment plant and send untreated sewage into the river. Bacteria counts are likely to be higher in the river after a heavy storm.
On the Connecticut River in 2004, researchers found high bacteria levels in undeveloped parts of the Connecticut Lakes region on a single day, just after a heavy rain. Walsh guesses that these results reflect the flushing of wetlands and other wildlife habitat areas after a long dry spell. However, consistent bacteria problems appeared a few miles downstream, from Bishop Brook to Canaan Dam in Stewartstown and in the Colebrook area. The Commissions are especially concerned at dangerous bacteria levels found in the 19 miles from Bloomfield to Groveton, a particularly beautiful stretch popular with canoeists, kayakers, and swimmers that includes the state-designated "Natural Segment." CRJC will be conferring with both states and investigating possible causes for this unexpected contamination.
Elsewhere, the river is safe for swimming and other recreation, except at times in the 14 miles from the White River to Cornish and Windsor. This stretch of river passed the bacteria tests this year but still may receive untreated sewage during and right after big storms, due to Lebanon's remaining combined sewer overflows.
"For thirty years, wastewater treatment plants have been key to the return of the river's health," notes River Commissioner Henry Swan of Lyme. "We must be certain that, as they age, these plants continue to operate effectively and that the funds are there for maintenance and improvements."
Water quality variable for aquatic life
The river demonstrated its ability to hold enough oxygen for fish and other aquatic life throughout its length. Dissolved oxygen never dropped below the state standard anywhere during the study, even at the very bottom of 100' deep Comerford Reservoir.
Acidity was a different story, with a number of readings in the river's first hundred miles showing pH below the state standards. Walsh pointed out that where the river is smaller, it has less ability to bounce back from the damaging effects of acid rain that regularly falls in its watershed. Surprisingly the opposite result was found at the North Stratford Bridge, where the river's pH threatens aquatic life because it is so high. The cause is unknown, but Walsh guessed that new riprap placed just upstream might have come from a limestone area, and suggested looking into this. Otherwise, pH was within accepted limits.
DES also measured "specific conductance," a test that indicates various kinds of pollution, such as road salt runoff. Researchers found a clear increase in specific conductance of river water as they traveled downstream. For unknown reasons, a few sites also tested high for aluminum, a metal that is leached from soil subjected to acid rain. At one station at the confluence of the Black River in Springfield, aquatic habitat is considered impaired due to the presence of milfoil.
The study's results are generally encouraging news for aquatic life, but they shed light on just four aspects of the underwater world, notes Adair Mulligan, CRJC Communications Director. "Mercury and other metals, automotive oils, and pesticides can lurk in the sediments or the bodies of fish and their food, and never appear in a bucket of river water." An extensive study of Connecticut River sediments by EPA in 2000 found contaminants from parking lot and road runoff at a number of locations as far north as Pittsburg village, and traces of copper from the mines high in the Waits and Ompompanoosuc watersheds of Vermont. At some sites, the contaminants were in levels high enough to threaten aquatic life.
Funds for the water quality study came primarily from DES and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Connecticut River Joint Commissions helped pay for the cost of processing bacteria samples. DES hired four interns to conduct the study, who went through a detailed training program before their work began. Vermont Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Jeffrey Wennberg, who attended the presentation, said he would like to have Vermont's water quality program coordinate with New Hampshire's to help answer questions on the shared river.
CRJC's web site carries information on the safety of various parts of the river for swimming and has updated this page with the preliminary new data.. Complete results of the river assessment will be posted on the DES Volunteer River Assessment Program web page. - 2/2/05
Study Reveals Reasons for River Erosion -The Connecticut River has more than a few secrets, and some of them were shared on November 4 in Lancaster by a fluvial geomorphologist working with the Connecticut River Joint Commissions. Dr. John Field spoke to an audience of thirty that included riverfront landowners, current and former legislators, and local officials from Pittsburg to Bath, NH and also from Vermont. He was reporting on his study of the rivers behavior in the 85 miles from Murphy Dam to Gilman.
Field explained that he had compared historical and current maps of the rivers course before going out onto the river and making hundreds of exacting measurements of river cross sections, bank erosion, the size of particles in the river bed, and the width of riparian buffers on the riverbanks, among other features. He found that only one third of the 166 miles of riverbanks he studied are stable.
River straightened for log drives: The first surprising discovery was that a third of the river here was likely straightened by humans before 1925. The New Hampshire General Court incorporated the Upper Connecticut River and Lake Improvement Company in 1863 and allowed it to "remove the boulders and rocks and all other obstructions from, and enlarge the channel of " the river from First Lake in Pittsburg to Stewartstown. The company could "erect and maintain across said river and upon said lake, dams, piers, and side or branch booms as may facilitate rafting, driving, floating and securing lumber upon said river." In 1867 the Legislature amended the act to extend down river to Fifteen Mile Falls. The very next year, lumber baron George Van Dyke ran the first log drive through this area.
Dr. Field commented that 150 years ago, river managers traded log drives and flood control for a legacy of erosion problems. Long straight stretches of river, such as through Canaan and Stratford, are not natural, and the river is now shaping the resulting sharp corners back into smoother, more natural curves. Straightening the channel has also caused it to cut down 3 to 4 feet within its bed. The river is now trying to widen and slow as it recovers from these dramatic changes.
Feeder streams can bring problems: Tributaries are also changing the main stem of the Connecticut. Dr. Field showed how sediment dropped in the mainstem by Bolter Brook in Canaan has shifted the river current to erode the New Hampshire side. The sediment may be coming from heavy land clearing in the brooks watershed in Canaan and Lemington, and from sand spread on nearby roads. Sediment coming from the Mohawk River in Colebrook is causing erosion downstream at the Colebrook Industrial Park. Steep, high banks such as at Brunswick Springs are also a troublesome source of sediment that creates gravel bars and erosion.
Maidstone farmer Louis Lamoureaux asked whether such gravel bars could be dredged, but Dr. Field said that the tributaries would continue to deposit sediment in the mainstem, and the bars would be back. Lawrence Underhill, a retired NRCS Soil Conservationist, said that the Mohawks gravel bars were dredged in the 1970s and reappeared not long afterward. He added that it would now be difficult to get the necessary permit for such dredging. Dr. Field said that a better alternative would be to keep sediment from entering the tributary.
Riprap failure: Dr. Field also discovered that stone riprap, long trusted by many for erosion control, is not foolproof on the upper Connecticut. He showed a number of photos of older failed riprap, where the river had simply eroded behind the stone, and he said that armoring with riprap can also move the rivers energy and erosive power somewhere else.
The study also helped confirm the value of riparian buffers. On the upper Connecticut River, Dr. Field observed a 67% greater chance of finding erosion where there is no riparian buffer, and that a forested buffer at least 25 feet wide is associated with greater bank stability.
After hearing of the expense and problems involved in stabilizing riverbanks and removing sediment deposits, several in the audience asked whether it would be more cost effective to prevent actions that make the situation worse. Dr. Field agreed, and advised against building levees close to the river, and said that bank armoring prevents the river from natural widening and slowing down. Heavy land clearing sends sediment into tributaries to build bars that cause erosion. Buildings and other infrastructure should be kept away from the river, perhaps with the help of conservation agreements, to avoid conflicts as the river moves back into a more natural path.
Project Proposed at Colebrook Industrial Park: Part of the River Commissions project with Dr. Field is to create a design for restoring a priority riverbank. CRJC and Dr. Field selected an erosion site on the Colebrook Industrial Park, where there is erosion around a drain pipe and the park is threatened. Detailed surveying revealed that the site is directly affected by gravel deposited in the mainstem by the Mohawk River, a short distance upstream. The energy the river retains due to riprap along Route 102 upstream is transporting sediment down to the Colebrook Industrial Park.
Kevin McKinnon, Colebrooks public works director and representative to CRJCs Headwaters Subcommittee, confirmed that the Mohawk was straightened and riprapped in the 1960s by the Army Corps of Engineers because of ice build-up in downtown Colebrook.
Dr. Field discussed the pros and cons of a wide variety of alternatives for dealing with erosion at the Colebrook Industrial Park, from "do nothing" to moving the river away from the site and into its old channel, now in Vermont. Dr. Field pointed out that the river here is popular with fishermen, and that the riverbank restoration could be designed to help improve the fishing. He and CRJC had dismissed most alternatives as politically and economically unviable. Instead, they recommend a combination of bioengineering with root wads to improve fish cover, planting a riparian buffer, and creating a conservation agreement for the buffer area, while looking further into the Mohawk Rivers role in causing the erosion.
With the support of the town and the landowner, CRJC has applied for grants to restore the site. CRJC Executive Director Sharon Francis explained that the Colebrook site was selected because the project could help protect an economically important area for the community, and that Colebrook is already wisely planning for its future, having protected its drinking water supplies and conserved riverfront land. Peter Riviere, Executive Director of the Coos Economic Development Corporation, said that the Colebrook Industrial Park is the best site for industry that is critical for the North Countrys future.
Colebrook Development Corporation President Benoit Lamontagne said after the meeting that he is enthusiastic about the idea of a conservation agreement and riverbank restoration. He added that the value of Dr. Fields study became apparent as he realized he had never associated the Mohawk River with the problems at the industrial park.
Mrs. Francis announced that CRJC has also applied for grants, with the support of the Town of Northumberland, to further examine the complex and difficult erosion problems at the Groveton Cemetery. This study would include the Upper Ammonoosuc River and eroding farmland across the river in Maidstone and Guildhall.
CRJC plans to post a summary of Dr. Fields report on this site. For a color copy of the full report, send a check for $10 to cover copying, postage, and handling to CRJC at PO Box 1182, Charlestown, NH 03603.
Funds for the Northern River Assessment study have come from a NOAA appropriation to the Connecticut River Joint Commissions, and from a grant from the Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund associated with the Fifteen Mile Falls hydro development.
For more on erosion in the Connecticut River watershed, click here.