A Waterway Worth Protecting

No one would argue against the concept of clean water. But many people, even those living in the vicinity of the Connecticut River watershed (a group that includes most Pioneer Valley residents), may not understand all the reasons why.

When Dr. Joseph Davidson, founder of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, toured the river in 1959 to highlight its issues, those problems were easily understood; specifically, some areas were so infested with sewage and filth that people — smart people, anyway — couldn’t swim in the water, or even paddle.

Davidson’s organization — which recently rebranded as the Connecticut River Conservancy — has spearheaded efforts to clean the river for more than six decades, both through its own hard work and by advocating for stricter local, state, and federal environmental laws. As a result, the river and its tributaries are now havens for outdoor creation, from kayakers to fishermen (and women); from raft riders to dragon-boat enthusiasts.

By funding the removal of long-defunct dams, it is bringing back wildlife, including fish that swim upstream from the ocean to spawn. By creating an interactive website where people can test the bacteria levels at various points and post them — and soliciting help on trash cleanups and other projects — it is engaging the public on ecological issues and helping them understand that river stewardship is a public trust. And by putting science at the forefront, it is providing an antidote to common misperceptions about climate change.”

But the CRC has done much more than that. By funding the removal of long-defunct dams, it is bringing back wildlife, including fish that swim upstream from the ocean to spawn. By creating an interactive website where people can test the bacteria levels at various points and post them — and soliciting help on trash cleanups and other projects — it is engaging the public on ecological issues and helping them understand that river stewardship is a public trust. And by putting science at the forefront, it is providing an antidote to common misperceptions about climate change.

Tying all these threads together is the impact the watershed — which actually covers some 11,000 square miles in four states — has on quality of life in the region and, by extension, the economy. “We know that when you have cleaner, healthier, and more abundant natural resources, your economy flourishes, and quality of life flourishes,” said Andrew Fisk, CRC director. “We want to see both economic and ecological abundance.”

It’s the economic impact many people don’t often think about, from the small businesses that benefit from river recreation — such as marinas, raft-tour operators, boat dealers, and stores that specialize in fishing, camping, and outdoor gear — to people and businesses that might choose to move to Western Mass. for quality-of-life reasons, clean and vibrant waterways being one of them.

In short, the CRC’s work — which is rapidly expanding along with a budget that has nearly quadrupled in the past five years — is a prime example of how economic and ecological interests don’t need to be at odds, but actually share much common ground. It’s why the conservancy is excited about what will happen over the next 65 years — and why we should be, too.

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