Connecticut River: The Whole Story

While land protection remains an important tool, we have realized we also must protect the “whole systems” in which species grow, feed, migrate and interact.

In many ways, a healthy ecosystem is like a healthy human body, with many small processes working in tandem to support life. A disruption in any one of these processes — from clean water circulation to the movement of migratory species — impacts the whole.

As The Nature Conservancy has grown, so, too, has our approach to conservation. While land protection remains an important tool, we have realized we also must protect the “whole systems” in which species grow, feed, migrate and interact.

Because of our state’s location at the center of two vital whole systems — the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound — The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut has pioneered these new methods of conservation, which promise results across the region.

To address whole system challenges, we are helping guide government policy, integrating processes and places, focusing on people’s needs, connecting natural spaces and more. It’s a natural evolution for us that offers our supporters the chance for a more meaningful and lasting impact on the lands and waters we call home.

Connecticut River

Traversing 410 miles and crossing four states, the Connecticut River is New England’s longest river. It provides electricity and drinking water to 2.3 million people and also serves as the heart of our region’s ecology.

The Conservancy’s first move toward protecting the river occurred in 1960, with the purchase of 46 acres in East Haddam, Connecticut, that today make up Burnham Brook Preserve. Today, staff throughout the Conservancy work with partners on:

  • Restoring flows: A river’s seasonal highs and lows cue fish to spawn and plants to seed, but large dams silence those signals by restricting water levels. We’re working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and University of Massachusetts to quantify the impact of large dams and find ways to retain services while improving water management.
  • Connecting habitats: Fish live on the move, searching for food, habitat and mates. Unfortunately, dams and culverts often block their passage. We recently installed a fish ladder near Berlin, Connecticut, that opens an additional 50 miles of stream. We also replaced an undersize culvert in Whately, Massachusetts, that restores native habitat and serves as a town model for reducing road damage from storms.
  • Replanting floodplains: Forested floodplains help slow floodwaters and filter runoff that otherwise can choke our rivers with sediment. Last year, we planted 25 disease-resistant American elms at each of 14 restoration sites. Additionally, we flooded 1,500 seedlings in raised test beds to study how different species react to rising waters.
Your Support Can Help Us...
  • Research how tributary flow releases benefit the main river.
  • Remove obsolete dams and educate dam owners on natural flows.
  • Plant additional native trees and grow more resilient varieties.



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