River Pollution

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Pollution in the Connecticut River

The Connecticut River, flowing through the four states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, is a lifeline for the region. Unfortunately, though the river is a vital natural resource, the quality of the river’s water has suffered greatly due to industrialization and pollution caused by human interference. Although there have been several initiatives to clean up the river over the past fifty years, the Connecticut River and the many ecosystems it supports are still in recovery. Without continuous and significant efforts, the river, flora, and fauna within its watershed are vulnerable to further damage.

The Connecticut River is the region’s longest river and runs a total of 410 miles stretching from its source near the Canadian border to the shores of Old Lyme, Connecticut. The river begins at Fourth Connecticut Lake, where it sits 2,670 feet above sea level, and flows between Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s White Mountains as it travels south toward its mouth at Long Island Sound. The Connecticut River watershed spans even further, covering 11,260 square miles. The river connects 148 tributaries, or streams, to include numerous lake and ponds, as well as 38 major rivers (“About the River | Connecticut River” n.d.). Among these tributaries are hundreds of dams, and thirteen on the main stem of the river, which ultimately affect the physical characteristics of the river. The river’s location in New England is responsible for a temperate climate and changing seasons. Because of this, the river receives heavy rains and snowfall at times, which subsidize the ever-changing water levels and depths – a contributing factor to man-made damage via pollution. The river watershed’s landscape ranges from dense forests and rural areas to more industrialized parts as it moves south. The more developed urban areas in southern Massachusetts and Connecticut share blame for former and current pollution levels in the river.

Environmental issues in the Connecticut River are becoming increasingly more worrisome despite recent efforts to reverse the damage from over the past one hundred years. The Connecticut River had once been described as the “best landscaped sewer”. Like many other natural resources, the river has fallen victim to industrialization. The deteriorating and aging infrastructure requires significant funding to reduce environmental effects, and the pollutants continue to pour into the river. The problems are highlighted in terms of achieving fishable and swimmable water quality and this is especially true in more densely populated areas with high industrial output such as Holyoke, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut.

The pollution stems from raw sewage entering the water, whether via industry or agriculture. The Connecticut River website reiterates that “though some of the largest combined sewer overflows (CSOs) have been eliminated and associated contamination reduced by half in the past 15 years, bacteria levels during storm events remain unsafe for swimming and boating (“About the River | Connecticut River” n.d.). In a 2017 Hartford Courant piece, journalists discovered that outdated permits from 2001, set to expire in 2005, have allowed for pollution to continue (Hladky, 2017). The heavy rains cause sewage overflow, thus mixing with raw sewage, and this ultimately pours into the Connecticut River. In fact, more than 28.7 million pounds of nitrogen have been introduced into the waterway (“About the River | Connecticut River” n.d.). Unfortunately, it seems as though the poorer communities are footing the bill due to the located of these combined sewers. Connecticut environmental activists are fed up with the EPA’s inaction, and “warn that nitrogen-heavy pollution from sewage systems in Massachusetts runs down river into Long Island Sound and are a major reason why large sections of the Sound end up as summer "dead zones" where there's not enough oxygen for marine life to survive” (Hladky, 2017). Several groups and state officials agree that improved storm management and financial implementation may help to prevent further pollution.

Another issue the Connecticut River faces is the presence of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. “E. coli bacteria is an “indicator” in the water for human pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and other diseases) that might make people sick if they use the water for swimming or boating.” (Is the River Clean? – Connecticut River Conservancy. (n.d.). The Connecticut River Conservancy monitors bacteria through constant water quality testing, and explains that high levels of bacteria lead to significant health concerns. The E.coli bacteria is typically introduced into the river via sewage overflow; however, agricultural run-off from commercial farming and sometimes wildlife in tributaries further pollute the water. There is a general consensus among scientists and environmental groups that the primary factor is due to pollution from people. After comparative analyses of years of water quality testing, it should be noted that bacteria presence has lessened over the past forty years.
The aforementioned issues, as well as mercury seepage, have been occurring for nearly a century; however, it wasn’t until the Clean Water Act in the 1970’s that the region demanded change. According to Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Federal Clean Water Act mandates that every two years states are required to complete water quality testing and submit this to the EPA ("Water Monitoring Program - CT DEEP", 2019). The individual states, communities, and organizations, such as the Connecticut River Conservancy, have made certain that these standards are upheld in order to protect the natural diversity and overall quality of the water.

The Connecticut River and its watershed is home to over two million residents throughout New England in four hundred cities, and is essential for some of the region’s most productive agriculture, manufacturing, and commerce. In light of recent clean-up efforts, the river now also supports ecotourism and various recreational use, to include swimming, boating, and fishing. Most notably, the river provides drinking water for millions of people in the region through its various tributaries. In addition to its importance to people, the river watershed is home to several wildlife species which include bald eagle, trout, bear, moose, and numerous threatened and endangered species. Overall, the Connecticut River’s economic, cultural, and natural qualities are not to be undervalued.

The Connecticut River has rebounded significantly in the past fifty years; however, there is much room for improvement. Because of human caused damage, habitats have been destroyed, recreational access is often limited, and contamination is inevitable. Fortunately, there have been great strides through collaborative efforts and partnerships in New England that are responding to the pollution issues. Groups such as the Connecticut River Conservancy, as well as funding from the EPA, are in place to create and implement innovative solutions for a healthier ecosystem and overall improved water quality. Through future initiatives and sustained advocacy, the Connecticut River and its watershed will continue to be an invaluable resource for all its inhabitants and neighbors.


About the River | Connecticut River. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2019, from http://connecticutriver.us/site/content/about-river
Hladky, G. (2017, April 17). EPA Continuing to Allow Springfield Pollution Into Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. Retrieved March 2, 2019, from https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-springfield-sewage-controversyrecovered-fri-apr-14-120911-2017--20170414-story.html
Is the River Clean? – Connecticut River Conservancy. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2019, from https://www.ctriver.org/our-work/is-the-river-clean/
Water Monitoring Program - CT DEEP. (2019, March). Retrieved from https://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2719&q=325616 

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River Pollution. (2020, Apr 24). Retrieved June 18, 2024 , from

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