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CONNECTICUT RIVER LOOKS FORWARD TO A CLEANER, HEALTHIER FUTURE
Release Date: 08/16/1999
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042) Daniel Burke (617) 918-1285
As they waited for the Vice President to arrive in Cornish, N.H., citizens standing on the banks of the Connecticut River shared river stories. A sportsman from Hanover, N.H. bragged about the rainbow trout he had recently caught along a northern stretch of the river. A boater reminisced about a recent camping trip and the pleasure of canoeing beneath the recently-restored 460-foot covered bridge connecting Windsor, Vt. to Cornish. An activist from Hartford, Conn., boasted of the walkways and overlooks her city is building to lure tourists and residents back to the riverbanks. And environmentalists from all four states gloated about the river's cleaner waters and the remarkable return of American Bald Eagles, wading birds and other wildlife.
Twenty years ago, the stories would have been dramatically different. Pollution from sewage, erosion and industry was so bad the New York Times called the Connecticut "America's best landscaped sewer." It was so bad that fish stocks were woefully low and recreation in many areas was virtually non-existent.
Residents and local officials in many of the 99 communities along the Connecticut have worked hard to revitalize New England's longest river. With help from the Clean Water Act, they have eliminated hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage and industrial discharges. They've also worked with power companies to create passageways for fish that spawn upstream and to better regulate the enormous flow of water.
Today strollers and anglers, boaters and swimmers flock to a waterway that is cleaner, healthier and more economically vibrant. Tourists and outdoor enthusiasts are returning to the river just as fish and wildlife are.
Although we have made progress, there is much more to be done. The river continues to be sullied by more than 100 combined storm and sewer pipes that dump millions of gallons of sewage a year into the river. Meanwhile, erosion in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts has increased three-fold since 1979, further degrading the river's water quality. And even as direct sources of pollution are eliminated, runoff from farms, roadways and cities continues to be a problem.
The work ahead may be daunting, but the reasons for optimism are many.
The Connecticut River stretching 410 miles from the Canadian border to Old Saybrook, Conn., is one of just 14 rivers that were designated American Heritage Rivers by President Clinton in 1998. Through this federal initiative, the government has officially recognized the historic, cultural, economic and environmental importance of the Connecticut River and its watershed, and has promised to make sure the region receives the resources and attention it deserves.
Following through on this promise, Vice President Al Gore came to New Hampshire last month to announce $819,000 in grants earmarked for the river this year from a variety of federal agencies. This means the 2 million people who live in the Connecticut River Valley - one out of every seven New England residents - can look forward to cleaner waters and more vital communities.
As part of the designation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and community groups from the valley recently selected me to be "River Navigator" for the Connecticut. In this role, I will coordinate many of the projects in the river and help local activists get the resources they need to restore the Connecticut. I plan to work with the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the lead organization in the river designation, to help groups along the Connecticut work in concert.
Community groups such as the Connecticut River Museum and state advisory groups such as the Connecticut River Joint Commissions have worked for years to win grants, pass legislation and educate the public in their efforts to restore the river. During the Gore visit last month, 53 non-profit groups and regional commissions, as well as the governors of four states and 14 federal agencies, all signed a memorandum of understanding last month pledging to support 29 priority projects. These projects include:
- The Tri-State Connecticut River Scenic Byway, which would create a scenic drive from Holyoke, Mass., to Pittsfield, NH, focusing on the rural agriculture and cultural heritage of the valley. As part of this initiative, the city of Claremont, NH, has been awarded $215,000 from the federal government to fund a visitor's center.
- The "Sustainable Riverbanks Project," to reduce erosion and protect vital habitat along the river. This recently received a $50,000 grant from the EPA.
- Springfield's "Connecticut River 2020 Strategy," with plans for an urban bikeway and riverwalk that will be part the 18-mile Connecticut RiverWalk and Bikeway linking six river communities.
Several projects are already successfully underway.
- The City of Hartford's Riverfront Recapture has invested $36 million over 16 years to make the river more accessible to residents and tourists. The city has also worked with the Metropolitan District Commission to eliminate almost all the combined sewer overflow pipes in eight communities.
- Further north, government agencies and community leaders have successfully negotiated an historic agreement with the New England Power Co. to regulate the release of water at the three dams at the Fifteen Mile Falls Project and in the Connecticut Lakes. The agreement balances the demand for power generation with the need to protect habitat that supports fish and wildlife.
- Fish passageways installed at dams have brought Atlantic salmon, shad and river herring back to the river. Two fishways were put in place on tributaries in the lower watershed last summer and three more will be completed by 2000.
Daniel Burke was recently named "River Navigator" for the Connecticut River's American Heritage River designation.
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