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Collaborative Community Science in the Connecticut River Watershed Made Possible by Grants and Volunteers

Updated: Jun 28


Group of volunteers standing over water chestnut with buckets
Volunteers pull water chestnut from Keeney Cove in Glastonbury, CT

Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) is happy to share the continuation of programs dedicated to collaborative community science for a healthier Connecticut River watershed, with a focus on the specific projects outlined in this announcement. Building upon previous progress and tangible outcomes in 2023, programming will expand in 2024 thanks to support from generous funding partners and volunteer engagement.


Community Science Objectives:


The primary objectives of this collaborative community science effort are to expand and strengthen established community science programs while fostering new collaborative partnerships to increase local participation. The CRC is dedicated to protecting, restoring, and promoting the sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its watershed. By engaging with local communities, organizations, and volunteers, we aim to address pressing issues, including invasive aquatic plants, river cleanliness, and the need for collaborative partnerships and local citizen action across the watershed.


Funding Partners:


Funding collaboration has proven essential to growing success, and we’d like to recognize the Richard P. Garmany Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for their support of this work for a second year in a row.


Additional funding partners include the Town of Glastonbury; Cities of East Hartford and Middletown; Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s Sestero Fund; Community Foundation of Middlesex County’s Janvrin Fund; Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Aquatic Invasive Species Grant; Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Clean Water Act Section 319 Nonpoint Source (NPS) Grant; Raymond and Pauline Larson Foundation, The Kitchings Family Foundation, and Connecticut River Conservancy’s member support.


Program Focus Areas:


These projects aim to increase efforts in aquatic invasive plant management, enhance water quality monitoring, and strengthen community engagement through educational and recreational events.

 

  1. Removing and Preventing Aquatic Invasive Plants: Our focus remains on combating the spread of invasive species, particularly European water chestnut and hydrilla. This year we are expanding our Aquatic Invasive Species Field Crew from three to four seasonal staff members. These individuals will remove plant material from waterways, organize volunteer events, and educate community members about ways to prevent the spread.

 

2. Ensuring River Cleanliness: Through CRC's water quality monitoring programs, we will continue to provide essential data to address public inquiries regarding river cleanliness. Continued funding will support hiring a new Water Quality Monitoring Assistant who will coordinate bacteria monitoring volunteers and our participation in Save the Sound’s Unified Water Study, which looks at ecological health throughout the Long Island Sound watershed. We are also launching a new project funded by CT DEEP – in which we will support the creation of a Watershed Based Plan for the Scantic River. We are partnering with CT DEEP, the Scantic River Watershed Association and the University of Saint Joseph on this several-year long project. This project will help us become better connected with communities in the Scantic River Watershed and will help identify key areas to improve water quality.

 

3. Community Engagement and Partnerships: Our commitment to collaborative partnerships remains unwavering. By fostering alliances with environmental organizations, municipalities, educational institutions, businesses, and governmental agencies, we aim to broaden collective impact across the watershed. Friends of Whalebone Cove and the Jonah Center for Earth and Art two examples of such partnerships. We are piloting a new seasonal staff position: Environmental Education and Outreach Assistant. This individual will organize environmental education and youth engagement opportunities like the Compass Youth Paddles and school visits, as well as engage community members at farmers markets and environmental fairs. They will also support events and initiatives put on by our watershed partners.

 

Impact and Outcomes from 2023:


Previous years efforts have yielded tangible benefits for the Connecticut River and its surrounding communities. We aim to build upon these collaborative foundations in the year ahead:


  • Removal of invasive aquatic plants, resulting in improved habitat quality and biodiversity

  • Increased awareness of river cleanliness and public safety, leading to informed decision-making by recreational users

  • Strengthened community engagement and partnerships, fostering a sense of ownership and stewardship among community members

  • Exposure and enjoyment of the river by new communities

 

In 2023, CRC engaged 98 water chestnut volunteers, logging 419 hours of work. Despite a difficult season due to heavy rain and flooding, CRC staff and volunteers removed over 16,550 pounds of water chestnut, or 1,202 cubic feet. Vinton’s Mill Pond in South Windsor used to be a major infestation – yet last year we found less than one hundred plants. This shows the importance of consistency in our work. Thanks to the foldable kayaks provided by an anonymous donor through Hartford Foundation for Public Giving’s Express Grants, we were able to engage many new volunteers who do not own their own boats and would not have been able to participate otherwise. The boats also expanded community access to the river by creating on-water experiences that benefitted the volunteers and the river.

 

CRC's community science initiatives also have played a pivotal role in monitoring bacteria levels at eight locations along the Connecticut River in Connecticut. Through the "Is It Clean? / Está Limpio?" online network , high-quality data on river cleanliness has been made accessible to the public, ensuring informed decision-making regarding recreational activities and public safety. With all the rain and flooding the Connecticut River watershed experienced last summer, we had many opportunities to educate communities about water quality issues like combined sewer overflows and dangers of contaminated floodwaters. CRC staff were featured in local news outlets  discussing the flooding and organized a CRC webinar on where our water comes from and where it goes.


Collaborative partnerships and community engagement remain central to CRC's mission. This year we met regularly with our River Partners group, which brings together diverse stakeholders to work towards common goals. We engaged a diversity of communities and ages from UConn Adult Learner’s Program to the STEM GEMS Summer Camp to the Compass Youth Collaborative Paddles.

 

We look forward to continuing these collaborative community science programs. Future announcements will share similar initiatives in the upper watershed and celebrate how CRC's watershed-wide collaborations and programs are improving ecology and resiliency across the system. Thanks as always to our incredible funders, dedicated volunteers, and watershed communities for continuing to engage in this important work for healthier rivers.

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