Like many New England rivers, the Millers and its tributaries became working rivers from the 18th century onwards to the present day. Until the 1960s, people did not generally recognize the adverse ecological impacts of putting these rivers to work. Water quality suffered, fish populations declined, and people were turned away from the rivers. Since then, efforts by government, business and conservation groups have made considerable progress in restoring rivers to a healthier state capable of maintaining diverse aquatic life and serving diverse human needs.
Read on for more historical background, or learn about our Current River Restoration Efforts.
MRWC was very involved in the initial phase of river restoration, in the 1960s and 70s, when the river had become filthy, smelled horrible, and no longer supported fish. During this lengthy period, municipal and industrial waste treatment facilities were built and, eventually, strict limitations on discharges were enforced, allowing the Millers River to cleanse and return to being a living river.
Another key long-term effort to protecting the Millers Watershed has been the growing movement by regional Land Trusts and others to preserve open space. In the Millers Watershed, land protection has helped to ensure that large areas are kept in their natural state, and can continue to provide the critical ecological and hydrological functions that contribute to maintaining both the quality and quantity of local water resources. MRWC holds the Conservation Restriction (CR) on a 40-acre property in Athol, and supports land trust projects seeking to protect large tracts within the watershed.
Current restoration efforts include:
Stormwater Management and reducing Non-Point Source pollution. One Watershed Council focus is on helping reduce the amount of toxic and otherwise harmful substances that can end up on the ground and be washed into waterways. It is also one of the easiest and effective ways for people to contribute to water quality and watershed health.
Eel Pass below New Home Dam, OrangeOrange Eel Pass. In November 2008, after years of planning and effort by local conservation groups, an eel pass was installed just downstream of the New Home Dam in the center of Orange, Massachusetts. The metal ramp-like structure is attached to the Mini-Watt Hydro-Electric facility on the south side of the Millers River. American eels migrating up the Millers River from the Connecticut River now have access to habitat they haven’t seen since before the current dam was built after the 1938 flood. Monitoring of the eel population is part of a multi-year study to determine the extent of eel migration in the Millers River watershed, as well as to contribute to ongoing research on the species’ declining numbers. Results so far have been disappointing, with no eels passed. However, the project team continues to make improvements and is hopeful that eels will be seen in 2012.
1000 Acre Brook Watershed Restoration Project The Town of Athol, the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, and other project partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are undertaking this aquatic habitat and river restoration project in the Towns of Athol and Phillipston. The overall Thousand Acre Brook Watershed Restoration Project involves the removal several dams within the Thousand Acre Brook Watershed. The project was awarded Priority Project status by DER in December 2009. Feasibility studies have been completed for both the Thousand Acre Pond Dam, as well as the Phillipston Reservoir Dam. Comprehensive project permitting was begun in the summer of 2010. MRWC has participated in project activities, so that it can provide the public with up-to-date information during and after the project’s completion.
Trash cleanups MRWC periodically schedules trash cleanups along rivers and trails, and participates in annual clean up days. Trash clean ups keep the river looking clean but also removes hazards for both humans and wildlife.
Invasive species removal Knotweed, milfoil, and purple loosestrife are some of the river and pond species whose removal may be targeted as future projects for MRWC.