New England Preservation: The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed

By Carla Charter

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed is made up of seven separate rivers, running through 12 towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island. An October bill before Congress, on the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Riverways Act, will ask that the watershed be added to the list of protected waterways, ensuring that the watershed’s pristine beauty will be able to be appreciated by generations to come.

The watershed was first used by the Narragansett and Pequoig tribes. In Colonial times the rivers were used to power small grist and lumber mills.  By the 1800’s manufacturing mills were using the 300 square mile watershed.

Today the watershed is used for trout fishing and provides scenic rivers for paddling. “It is pretty easy paddling, there is not more than a class 1 ripple in the rivers,” according to Denise J. Poyer, Study Coordinator of the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Study Committee.  The watershed flows through state and local parks in both states, making the area a great place for picnicking, hiking and camping.  The watershed is home to seventy five percent of the rare and endangered species of Rhode Island including varieties of trout, mussels, dragonflies and damselflies and it is also a sole source aquifer. “Preserving the watershed contributes to keeping water clean and  healthy for residents,” she said.

As part of the application process, ”We created a study committee comprised of representatives of all 12 towns plus the Connecticut Office of Nature Conservancy, Save the Bay Rhode Island,  the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and representatives of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment. It was important to have the towns, states and local conservation groups involved in the study. We are a diverse group from a wide area who all love the rivers and want to see them here for generations to come, “ Poyer continued.

Should the watershed receive the designation under the act, the National Park Service would work with local groups to steward the river, she explained.  “Creating a stewardship council of 12 towns and two state conservation groups, stewardship will be in the hands of the local groups not the federal government, Poyer said.  Among other duties, the Stewardship Management Council have input on use of any funding coming from the National Park Service.

“The park service will need to review and comment on any project near the river which is using federal funding and/or federal permitting. Even if the project is not federally funded or federally permitted the project would still need to be reviewed by the stewardship council and who would comment on whether the project would adversely affect the river,” Poyer said.

The Council has also addressed resident’s concerns during the application process.  “We had it written into the statement of support and in the act of stewardship that the Federal Government will not be able to take any property,” she stated.

As for new regulations she explained that Rhode Island and Connecticut have very good wetland regulations already. ” We will be able to use the regulations already in place to benefit the rivers,” she continued.  More information on The Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers project can be found at http://wpwildrivers.org/