The Millers River Watershed Council was formed at a time when the color and smell of the Millers River, considered by many anglers to be the “best trout stream in the state,” varied on a daily basis. In the early 1960s, farmers started fencing their stock away from once clear drinking spots along the river. In the late 1960s, at a meeting between a farmer and a University of Mass Dairy Extension agent at the
confluence of the Millers and the Connecticut River, they decided to persuade two residents from each of the 17 watershed towns to meet and formulate an action plan to discover the cause and work towards a pollution solution. Uncertain of the sources of the problem, the group formed search parties to explore the watershed and, if and when sources were found, to lobby local and state officials to help them clean up the river. In this way, the Millers River Watershed Council had its beginning and by 1970 the group was incorporated as a nonprofit.
Passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 helped the Council’s efforts to pressure municipalities and industries to construct and properly operate wastewater treatment plants. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, non-point source pollution had begun to receive increased attention, and the Council was successful in actively opposing “economic development” proposals involving the processing of toxic waste in Orange and the expansion of landfills in watershed communities.
The implementation of the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative in the late 1990s led to the creation of basin-wide Assessment Reports and Action Plans for the Millers River Watershed, as well as local Stream Teams for the Tully and Otter Rivers. While many water quality issues have been addressed by a variety of watershed stakeholders, many others continue to need attention, and the level of volunteer participation by community members continues to ebb and flow.
In 2005, a MRWC volunteer with a professional environmental background became its part-time Coordinator, and the organization focused more on a proactive approach to engaging local residents in watershed stewardship–including recreational, educational and volunteer water monitoring programs. In 2006, to provide water quality data the state was lacking, the Council began a state-approved multi-year sampling program for benthic macroinvertebrate (BMI), organisms, which are excellent water quality indicators. Continuing its tradition of local advocacy, the Council participated in a successful campaign in 2009 to prevent a gas station from being built over a Zone II aquifer recharge area in Erving. That same year, the Council worked with the Town of Winchendon and the Massachusetts Watershed Coalition to develop a stormwater management bylaw that voters approved.
In 2010, the Council joined the newly-formed MassLIFT Initiative, gaining the half-time services of an Outreach Coordinator, and developed the Millers River Blue Trail Initiative for the Millers and Otter rivers. The first Blue Trail segment was launched in 2011. The Council also piloted a volunteer-based bacteria monitoring program that was successfully completed the same year, as a compliment to the Blue Trail project.