How We Work in the Connecticut River


What is Our Vision for the Connecticut River?

The Nature Conservancy is working to restore the river system to be clean, abundant and healthy. The Conservancy removes dams to reconnect habitat for migrating species, works with dam owners to restore natural river flows and works to protect and replant floodplains. Our goal is to see New England’s great river great once more.

What Actions Will Help the Connecticut River?

Natural river flow throughout the watershed.

Dam removal can restore habitats, flush out pollution and enable fish to swim between the river and the sea. But sometimes dam removal isn’t feasible. Many large dams in the watershed, for example, mitigate flooding and provide critical water supply and electricity for local communities.

Fish spawning and seed dispersal coincide with a river’s natural seasonal highs and lows, but large dams silence those signals by restricting water levels. We’re working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the University of Massachusetts to quantify the impact of large dams and find ways to retain the services they provide while also improving water management for the good of nature and people.

Reconnected rivers and greener infrastructure.

Fish live on the move, searching for food, habitat and mates. Unfortunately, dams often block their passage. In Connecticut, we recently installed a fish ladder near the town of Berlin that opens an additional 50 miles of upstream habitat. In Hebron, the Conservancy worked with partners to remove a dam on Raymond Brook, opening up 41 miles of habitat for “brookies,” our native eastern brook trout.

Less conspicuous than dams are the watershed’s 44,000 road-stream crossings. Some of the culverts at these crossings allow natural movement of water, fish, salamanders and turtles. But others block access essential to feeding and spawning. In spring 2013, we replaced an undersized culvert in Whately, Massachusetts to restore native habitat and provide a town model for reducing road damage from storms.

Healthy floodplains that sustain communities.

Forested floodplains help trap floodwaters and filter runoff that otherwise can choke our rivers with sediment. Sadly, we’ve all but lost one of our most important floodplain species—the American elm.

The American elm is an iconic species, whose loss from city parks and streets, following the spread of Dutch elm disease, has been much lamented. The impact of this disease on northern floodplain forests has been equally dramatic: American elms were once the largest tree species in Massachusetts and helped support healthy floodplains.

While today’s elms rarely exceed one foot in diameter, they are surviving long enough to reproduce. Last year, through a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, we planted 25 disease-tolerant elms at each of 14 restoration sites. Additionally, in a controlled environment, we flooded 1,500 potted seedlings of invasive species that are choking out natives in our floodplain forests to see how a natural pattern of high and low river flows help control invasives without expensive and potentially damaging herbicides.

Future Needs

Private dollars are vital to the protection of the Connecticut River. Additional funding would support Conservancy efforts across the watershed, including:

  • Removal of obsolete dams and education of dam owners about the hazards to our roads, bridges and communities of keeping these dams in place.
  • Planting of additional native trees to restore water-filtering, flood-absorbing floodplain forests.
  • Research to determine how tributary flow releases benefit the main river, while providing for critical drinking water supply and hydro-power generation.

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