Like most coastal rivers in New England, the Niantic River has its share of charms and challenges. Among the latter are the presence of harmful bacteria and an overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorous, both of which spark algae blooms that deplete the water of oxygen and choke off aquatic habitat. I learned more about these threats to the river, as well as what’s being done to help, when I met with members of Save the River-Save the Hills in July 2012. As we toured the river by kayak and sailboat, Vice-President Deb Moshier-Dunn and founder Fred Grimsey spoke about what makes the river special for many types of boaters and residents, and what people who live in the watershed and use the river can do to protect it.
Bordered by East Lyme and Waterford, the Niantic sees heavy use during the warm months and is flanked by numerous homes whose lawns extend to the water’s edge. Many of these homes are equipped with old and inadequate septic systems, and their owners often treat their lawns and gardens with nitrogen-rich fertilizers that flow directly into the river. Large, green lawns also prove inviting to ducks, swans and geese—a significant source of fecal coliform bacteria that can lead to the closure of shellfish beds and swimming areas.
All but 1 mile of the river’s shoreline is developed, and now that same mile is facing deforestation to make room for a proposed sprawling 1720-unit housing complex on the river’s west bank, bordering the Oswegatchie Hills. Not only would such a development alter the very character of the river, it would increase the runoff of harmful pollutants, especially given the non-porous granite-ledge substrate of the surrounding land.
As Fred Grimsey says in the accompanying video, such a massive altering of the watershed “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back” when it comes to pushing the river over its capacity to rid itself of pollutants.
If you’d like to help support the efforts of Save the River-Save the Hills, the group is holding its annual Niantic River Appreciation Day kayak paddle this August 18 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the headwaters of the Niantic River. Paddlers and other boaters are welcome to attend and listen to live music on the river.
For more information:
(860-442-8349 – Fred Grimsey, President)
(860-444-9247 – Deb Moshier-Dunn, VP & Kayak Regatta Chair)
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