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February 26, 2020
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Graphic provided by Southwest Conservation District.

Graphic provided by Southwest Conservation District. )

Southwest Conservation District Leads Farm River Watershed Planning Project

Published Feb. 14, 2020

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The Southwest Conservation District (SWCD) has contracted with the CT Council on Soil and Water Conservation (CCSWC) to lead the development of a management plan for the Farm River watershed. The $74,000 awarded for this project is part of a larger source-water (drinking water supply) protection grant provided to the Council by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and will be matched by funds and in-kind services locally provided by the SWCD ($20,000); and the Regional Water Authority(RWA, $50,000), respectively. This planning effort will take place over the next year and is actively seeking public input from stakeholders and interested citizens.

The Farm River watershed is in south central Connecticut and provides approximately ten percent of the region's drinking water. RWA supplies 45 million gallons of water a day to a population of 430,000 people. The Farm River flows directly into Long Island Sound, making it critical for protecting that natural treasure. The study area for this project is located in the Towns of Branford, North Branford, East Haven, and Guilford, and features a mix of urban, suburban, and rural land uses. This medium sized watershed is approximately 16,300 acres in size with approximately 8,500 acres in agricultural and forested lands.

In late 2018, the Farm River watershed was selected by NRCS, as one of 15 watersheds nationwide to participate in a National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) pilot for source water protection. NRCS followed up this announcement by hosting a series of stakeholder meetings last year that included representatives from local municipalities, water utilities, health departments, non-governmental agencies, and interested residents. The effort has also been supported by CT Dept. of Public Health, CT Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) source water program. These initial meetings identified the need to develop a watershed plan that addressed both urban and agricultural nonpoint source pollution and would protect both drinking water and Long Island Sound. With these goals in place, the council was able to secure NRCS funding, including the match, to move forward with the project work.

"The Southwest Conservation District is excited to work with the various stakeholders to develop a watershed management plan for the Farm River" said Chris Sullivan, SWCD Executive Director. "Once it is completed, this plan will open up additional federal funding to help us improve water quality and protect natural resources in this important watershed."

Chris Malik, Watershed Manager with CT DEEP, works closely with EPA's 319 nonpoint source pollution program and saw the opportunity to work together with USDA on this project.

"I am happy that USDA is allowing the planning effort to focus on the entire watershed and not just agriculture lands" explained Malik. "Coordinating NWQI and 319 planning makes sense both environmentally and economically."

This is not the first planning effort on the Farm River. In 2011, a "Source Water Protection Plan" was completed for the Farm River Watershed by the Atlantic States Rural Water and Wastewater Association and funded by the EPA. The RWA has participated in these previous planning efforts and is committed to updating and coordinating that work with this latest planning initiative.

"We look forward to working with the watershed's stakeholders in developing the Management Plan for the Farm River Watershed. This planning document will outline the course for a healthier watershed." said Ron Walters a Senior Environmental Analyst with RWA.

The Town of North Branford has also focused on the Farm River in land use planning and has consistently included actions to protect the Farm River in their Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). In the most recent POCD adopted in 2019, some specific strategies of preserving the River and its valley includes protecting the upland areas around the river, improving water quality, and developing a watershed management plan. Additionally, the Town of North Branford's Conservation and Inland Wetlands and Waterways Agency  updated its regulations in 2015 expanding the regulated area around the Farm River from 100 feet to 200 feet in order to monitor more activities within the close proximity of the River.

"The Farm River is a significant resource to the Town of North Branford. The River traverses the entire length of the Town and provides essential habitat for numerous species of fish, birds, and other wildlife. The Town is excited to be a part of this highly skilled team working to develop a plan to help improve and protect the Farm River," said Carey Duques, North Branford's Town Planner.

A public information session will be held in the watershed to gather public input on the development of the plan and local information on water quality and locations of potential impacts to the river. The session will be held later this spring. To be notified when the public information meeting is scheduled or are interested in protecting the Farm River and its water quality please contact Chris Sullivan, SWCD, at (203) 859-7014 or csullivan@conservect.org">csullivan@conservect.org.


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