House OKs ‘wild and scenic’ designation for lower Farmington River, Salmon Brook

Journal Inquirer

WASHINGTON — A sprawling natural resources bill containing designation for the lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook as a national “Wild and Scenic River” overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, and now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

The roughly 62-mile portion that would receive the designation — which carries certain protections that would ensure the “free-flowing” nature of the river is maintained and carries the possibility of federal funding to help with local conservation efforts — winds its way through 10 towns, including an 8.1-mile portion that runs through Windsor.

The act designating the river “wild and scenic” is part of the Natural Resources Management Act. It also contains protections and designations for other resources in the state and around the country, and permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

That fund, according to the Connecticut Audubon Society, has helped finance close to 500 conservation projects in the state and thousands nationwide.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 363-62. It passed the Senate this month by a vote of 92-8.

U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., first introduced the “Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic River Act” shortly after his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 with then-Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.

In a release issued Tuesday, Murphy thanked fellow congressional colleagues who have worked on the effort over the years, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, former Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, and former Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-5th District.

“This new law will be a game changer for our community,” Murphy said. Now with a ‘wild and scenic’ designation, we can expand upon conservation efforts to protect the river for years to come.”

Sally Rieger, chairman of the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic River Study Committee, which commenced its work in 2007, said Tuesday that she and her fellow committee members were “very excited” the bill passed the House, and was heading to the president to be signed into law.

“It’s good for the river and good for the towns on the river,” she said.

Rieger said she was glad the 12-year effort of the committee and all the community volunteers who worked on it is paying off.

She also knows how difficult it can be to get a bill passed — an earlier effort to secure the designation for the lower portion of the river and Salmon Brook passed the Senate in 2016, but failed in the House.

Rieger thanked the many volunteers, and the various legislators and their staffs — particularly Murphy’s — who dedicated many hours to meetings, taking photos, issuing newsletters, taking trips to Washington, D.C., producing the river study and management plan, and drafting the legislation.

“People really cared about it,” she said. “It was a big project, and it took a lot of everybody’s effort.”

A significant impact of the designation would be access to federal funding, which, according to Murphy’s office, could be as much as $100,000 annually.

Rieger said the funding likely would be used in similar ways as it has been by the Farmington River Coordinating Committee on the upper part of the Farmington River.

She said the committee has used the funding for various educational and conservation programs, including a junior river ranger program; a river steward program; scholarships for area students studying environmental science in college; grants for applicable river projects; invasive plant management; the acquisition of land parcels with river frontage; water quality monitoring; and river bank restoration.

In addition to Windsor, the designated river portion travels through Avon, Bloomfield, Burlington, Canton, East Granby, Farmington, Granby, Hartland, and Simsbury.

The upper 14-mile portion of the river, which travels through Barkhamsted, Canton, Hartland, and New Hartford, received “wild and scenic” designation in 1994.

The designated portion that travels through Windsor does not include the Rainbow Reservoir and Dam.

The dam, which is owned by Stanley Black & Decker, is a functioning hydroelectric power plant.