The Connecticut River and its Watershed

Connecticut River tideland habitat undergoing invasive plant control (light colored areas) and native plant community restoration.

Since this year’s Super Quest explores the Upper Valley’s aquatic features in all their myriad forms, this makes for an opportune time to focus on that greatest of all our region’s waterways, the Connecticut River. We Upper Valleyans depend greatly on the river, whether we realize it or not, and spend much of our time plying up, down, and across it, perhaps in cars more than boats. But how much do you know about something so close and important to you?

The Connecticut River is massive—the longest in New England: it runs from Pittsburg, New Hampshire’s border with Chartierville, Quebec for some 407 miles to the Long Island Sound, where it pours nearly 20,000 cubic feet of water into the Atlantic Ocean every second. Where does all that water come from? Rain, snow melt, and any other water that runs downhill from the surrounding land into this main artery (including its many tributaries!) feed the rushing courses of this beautiful river as it winds along New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This wide basin, lying between the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont, all 11,000 acres of it, makes up the Connecticut River’s watershed.

The watershed supports an incredibly diverse and plentiful community of life. Fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals up and down the river live in it and around it. The river used to host one of North America’s southern-most salmon runs. Thousands of salmon swam up the river and its tributaries every year, some making it all the way to the Connecticut’s headwaters, to spawn and die.

On the human side, the river and its watershed give us food and energy. The river’s floodplain has created some of the most fertile agricultural land in the northeastern U.S., and its course has been one the most developed hydropower sources in the country, with nine of the fifteen dams on the river producing hydroelectricity.

This history of the human relationship with the river prompted President Clinton to designate it an American Heritage River in 1998. Indeed, the river has shaped the lives of this region’s inhabitants for a long time: the name “Connecticut” comes from a Mohican word meaning simply “the long river”. And our contemporary name for this very region recognizes that the river is in many ways the defining feature of our community and land: “Upper Valley” refers to the upper section of the river valley carved by the river itself over millennia.

Hopefully these tidbits about the river, which are just the tip of the iceberg, pique your curiosity to learn more. If you are interested in the form and character the river and its watershed take in the Upper Valley itself, look for another blog post soon about the watershed subbasins in our region.

Sources: Britannica, Connecticut River Joint Commissions, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=54712&st=connecticut+river&st1=

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Super Quest 2018 Aquatic Adventure: The Quests

The 2018 Aquatic Adventure Super Quest is live! This Valley Quest challenge is a tour de force of summer fun. Register your team today for this free guided exploration of Upper Valley swimming holes, waterfalls, streams, and mill town lore. The following 10 Quests highlight various water features, teaching all the way. They are open to the public from May 1-November 1. Download and print the clues from the links here, then collect a stamp impression from each Quest’s hidden box on your stamp sheet to complete the challenge!

  1. The Floodplain Quest, Haverhill, New Hampshire
  2. The Strafford Watershed Quest, Strafford, Vermont
  3. Union Village Quest, Thetford, Vermont
  4. Flat Rock Quest, Orford, New Hampshire
  5. Barnard Academy Forest Quest, Barnard, Vermont
  6. The Energy Quest at Boston Lot, West Lebanon, New Hampshire
  7. The Quest Where the River and Mill Combine, Lebanon, New Hampshire
  8. Beaver Brook Quest, Brownsville, Vermont
  9. Muckross Quest, Springfield, Vermont
  10. Sunapee Harbor Quest, Sunapee, New Hampshire

Happy Questing!

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Protecting our Waterways

We in the Upper Valley owe a lot to our wondrous waterways. Our rivers, brooks, ponds, lakes, wetlands, and marshes provide us with inspiration, adventure, and solace, not to mention drinking water and electricity! They host entire ecosystems, teeming with life of all sorts. Conservation agencies in our region work hard to keep our waters healthy. We learned a bit about these amazing groups in the process of creating the 2018 Aquatic Adventure Super Quest, and want to share what we learned with you. All of these groups welcome volunteers, and many even organize big volunteer events like river clean-ups and waterway monitoring workshops. If you want to put your weight behind one of the many Upper Valley watershed conservation efforts, find the group closest to you from the ones highlighted here:

The Connecticut River Conservancy “is the voice for the Connecticut River, from source to sea.” It works in all four states through which the river runs (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) on various aspects of the river’s health, from planting trees on the riverbanks and removing defunct dams for fish habitat to diverting sewage streams, cleaning up trash, and testing water quality.

Zooming in on the twin states, the Connecticut River Joint Commissions have been meeting since 1989 to bring the best ideas and efforts from each state’s Connecticut River advisory commission to the table. These groups work towards benefiting the river and the people who depend on it. While the Joint Commissions have no power to regulate, they leverage other resources to keep the public involved in governmental decisions that affect the river, create corridor plans, provide grants, and advocate for the river in many other ways.

Photo from the White River Partnership

Photo from the White River Partnership

On the western side of the river, the Vermont state government’s Department of Environmental Conservation regulates water supply and quality, manages and protects watersheds, river corridors, and floodplains, conducts research and monitoring, handles wastewater and drinking water, directs recreation, and conducts dozens of other operations that touch on water bodies in the Upper Valley. They generously funded Valley Quest’s 2017 Watershed Challenge project with a Watershed Grant. Volunteering with them would be a great way to say thanks.

To the east, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services casts a similarly wide net in its work on the state’s waterways. They lend water quality monitoring equipment, lead educational programs, manage and protect rivers, and partner with local organizations to manage watersheds, among many other things.

Photo from the White River Partnership

Photo from the White River Partnership

Several groups in the Upper Valley focus on a particular watershed, river, or lake. The White River Partnership, for example, leads grassroots efforts from its Royalton, VT headquarters to promote “the long-term health of the White River and its watershed.” Lately, they’ve been monitoring water quality, hosting river cleanups, planting trees to improve flood resilience, expanding recreational access to the river, and keeping an eye on both native crayfish and fish populations and nonnative invasive species to restore and maintain wildlife habitat.

Another local group focused on a specific river and watershed is the Black River Action Team, which proclaims, “What began as a one-time cleanup of the Black River in southeastern Vermont has evolved into a full-blown grassroots watershed organization. Welcome to the wonderful, wet world of the Black River Action Team!”

If you live near the Mascoma River, the Mascoma Watershed Conservation Council is your go-to group. Its work has historically focused on funding research studies and bringing land around the Mascoma River under conservation.

The Lake Sunapee Protective Association is a group with longevity—they’ve been around since 1898! The LSPA monitors water quality through sampling and laboratory analysis, conducts scientific research, publishes newsletters, checks the spread of invasive species, and leads educational programs.

The Connecticut River and its Upper Valley tributaries give us places to fish, boat, and swim, generate our electricity, irrigate our crops, enrich our soil, and give us fresh water to drink. To maintain, conserve, and improve these benefits, consider joining one of the many local, vibrant watershed conservation efforts, and contact one of these agencies today!

Photo from the White River Partnership

Photo from the White River Partnership