We set high standards for our water. The tidewater estuary of the Connecticut River is a really long way from the Fourth Connecticut Lake. In between the top and bottom of our river are a wide variety of river reaches, land forms, and habitats. The tannic headwaters at Pittsburg, NH are very different from the slower moving, brackish waters in Essex, CT. The reservoirs behind the watershed’s many upland impoundments are not the same as the free-flowing river south of Holyoke, MA. The broad, flat glacial floodplains and oxbows of the lower river are not like the confined reaches of the river above Haverhill, NH. All of these differences have helped create the diverse natural, cultural, and economic regions throughout the four states in our watershed.
Despite these differences, the Connecticut is still one great river that connects the human and natural communities along its banks.
While diversity and difference create resiliency in our world, too often we can lose sight of a unified vision. There are innumerable differences between people, critters and governments in our watershed, yet there should not be a difference in our goals of clean, healthy rivers for all.
The Clean Water Act requires us — the public who own these waters — to be actively engaged in meeting its core aspiration, which is the restoration of the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation’s waters.
CRC has been working very hard to that end for a long time and we’ve made progress. But we are not there yet.
The Council ignores state boundaries, working instead for the whole river and the entirety of our watershed. The most important aspects of working for the whole river is whether the water quality standards in each of our watershed’s states are ambitious enough and consistent enough to ensure the Clean Water Act is being met.
The answers we are finding are “not always” and “not enough.”
CRC is launching the One Great River initiative, combining scientific analysis and advocacy to create lasting change:
- Stronger traditional water quality standards are needed to ensure that requirements for dissolved oxygen, temperature, and toxicity are strong enough that native cold water fish such as brook trout, sculpin and Atlantic salmon can thrive everywhere in the watershed. Current water quality standards in parts of the watershed can be a death sentence for juvenile cold water fish.
- Getting good standards off the shelf and on the River: Two states in the watershed have good standards for coldwater fish, but unfortunately they aren’t used nearly enough. Many stream segments around the watershed support cold water fish, but are left without the protections they need.
- Finishing the job Congress started: Traditional water quality standards are important, but they can’t do everything the Clean Water Act requires because they cannot by themselves ensure the biological health of our rivers. The creation of numerical standards that define diverse and healthy insect, algae and fish communities constitutes our most important current work because it will ensure that pristine waters stay pristine and beleaguered waters get well. Until we really pay attention to how the community structure of the algae, insect, and fish that live in our rivers define healthy water and then create standards that reflect those communities, our rivers will not thrive and, indeed, will slowly diminish in quality.