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Supporting the Connecticut River

The future of nature is taking the big-picture approach toward conserving the Connecticut River as a whole system.

A longtime champion of the Connecticut River, Massachusetts trustee Marilyn Sarles found particular inspiration during a canoe trip a few years ago with her husband Jay and Conservancy staffers Alison Bowden and Kim Lutz.

“As we meandered along the river, Kim pointed out the natural floodplains and vegetation,” Sarles says. “We were soothed by the river’s rhythm and captivated by its character.”

Listening to Conservancy staff, Sarles has become well-versed in the basics of maintaining a river’s health: dam-removal, sufficient flows, floodplain restoration, invasive plant control and headwater protection.

Another moment of inspiration for Sarles came when she saw an aerial photo of the whole Connecticut River just after Hurricane Irene carried a huge pulse of silt down the river to Long Island Sound. The photo "brought home the urgency of restoring its floodplains and mitigating dam effects."

An opportunity to restore the river comes with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's relicensing process for three of the five hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River. "There is a five-year window for The Nature Conservancy and other organizations to provide scientific information for an impact statement that could affect a decision on a renewal that could stand 50 years," Sarles says. "We've acted to help fund these studies."

The Conservancy is uniquely qualified to work toward restoring the Connecticut River as a whole system, Sarles says. "By virtue of its size, resources, prestige, sound science and experience at scale, The Nature Conservancy has the clout, credibility and coalition-building skills to be uniquely positioned to drive complex, whole system programs and leverage the efforts of smaller groups that might be overwhelmed id acting alone."

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