Are Our Local Rivers Healthy? Thoughts (and Data) from SuAsCo

Concord River at North Bridge Photo by Tom Henell on Unsplash

On Sunday, November 7, the Owl attended a fascinating talk sponsored by the Lincoln Land Conservation Trust and given by Alison Field-Juma, the Executive Director of OARS, a 501c3 organization whose mission is to “protect, improve and preserve the Assabet, Sudbury, and Concord Rivers, their tributaries and watersheds, for public recreation, water supply, and wildlife habitat.” By way of a tiny piece of Ogilivie Town Forest nearest Hazel Brook, Weston is a member of the SuAsCo (Sudbury, Assabet and Concord) Council.

The title of the presentation was “Are Our Rivers Healthy?” and you can probably cut to the chase and say “no”.

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In case you are not familiar with the rivers, the Sudbury and Assabet (and their tributaries) flow into the Concord River and from there into the Merrimack River on out to the shore. There are 29 miles that were designated as Wild and Scenic by an official act of President at-the-time, Bill Clinton. Eels and herring from the ocean would really love to come hang out further inland from time to time, but have many issues along the way.

These rivers have seen a lot. The upper Sudbury suffers the repercussions of the Superfund site in Ashland. There have been mills spewing “bad stuff” over time. The high mercury levels mean you cannot eat the river fish. In places, there are minimum stream flows–especially in the Upper Sudbury area where there are only 1.6 miles between dams. Pretty tough on the fishies, no? The low stream flows and polluted stormwater runoff from tributaries create perfect spots for cyanobacteria. River fish do not love stagnant water–though pond fish and invasive water chestnut do.

What are the proposed actions going forward? Build climate resiliency and restore the capability of nature to manage itself. Ms. Field-Juma spoke at length about the importance of protecting coldwater streams, and vernal pools, and restoring wetlands, floodplains and working on stream connectivity. At this point, fish have a problem going through the dams–migratory fish from the Merrimack cannot get upstream.

A report card for the river system shows that things are substantially not-so-good, though I suppose it could be worse. Water quality needs to be improved by investing in stormwater and wastewater pollution control. The recent issues that Wayland had with PFAS (Per- and PolyFluorAlkyl Substances) were mentioned. You can read more about that here. Wastewater upstream means that you do not want to be drinking the water downstream.

For much more information about the three rivers, please see the SuAsCo Council website. You can get involved in OARS and learn more about the data gathering and report cards here. And for the full presentation for LLCT, you can see the recording here. Support your local land trust!

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