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State gets behind water habitat protection efforts with grants

  • UMass Professor David Boutt, center, works with research students documenting water samples. Contributed Photo—

  • A UMass student researcher collects water samples. Contributed Photo—

  • A UMass student researcher collects water samples. Contributed Photo—

  • A UMass student researcher analyses water samples. Contributed Photo—

  • Dave Perkins, of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service holds a jar with an eastern lampmussel at the Northeast Fish and Aquatic Resources Home Monday, August 15.

  • Large mouth bass in a tank at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Fish and Aquatic Resources Home in Sunderland, to be used as host fish for freshwater muscles.



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, August 08, 2017

BOSTON — Two key Franklin County projects and a couple in Hampshire County are among 15 statewide receiving $506,344 as the state invests in its waterways.

“This is a collaboration we’re exceedingly pleased to be a part of,” said Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Connecticut River Conservancy Council in Greenfield. Grants were given through the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, a funding stream from environmentally-themed license plate sales.

The conservancy, formerly the Connecticut River Watershed Council, was given $40,500 to help reintroduce endangered brook floater mussels into wild freshwater. The mussels are now being raised at the former Richard Cronin National Salmon Station on East Plumtree Road, which was repurposed a year ago as a research and educational facility.

In its second of three years, the project’s a joint venture with UMass Amherst, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Money will be used to “support science with use of volunteers,” paying the salary of a full-time scientist and to organize efforts, Fisk said. “One of the things we do is give citizens and volunteers meaningful opportunities to make their rivers and waterways better.”

To that end, “citizen scientists” document “where remnant populations of the mussels exist, then find other locations that match, where there aren’t brook floaters, but could be,” Fisk said. Juvenile mussels are expected to be released into those places next year.

Investing in turtles

The American Turtle Observatory Inc., a national organization that observes turtle species in New Salem, received $40,000. The grant will be used “to evaluate the effects of habitat and wetland change on four long-lived, freshwater turtle species of concern,” a press statement said.

According to its website, the observatory maintains a large network of sites up and down the Connecticut River Valley. Included are five eastern box turtle populations and three spotted turtle populations.

“The American Turtle Observatory of New Salem is a strong partner in identifying and conserving landscapes that support fresh water turtles in the North Quabbin Region and beyond,” said state Rep. Susannah Whipps, R-Athol.

Attempts to reach a spokesperson for the organization were unsuccessful.

Water samples

Researchers at UMass Amherst received $94,375 to study water samples in order to understand impacts of drought and document its movement.

“By measuring the isotopic composition we can start to describe the source of that moisture — did it come, ultimately, from the Arctic? Or the Gulf of Mexico?” asked David Boutt, associate professor of geoscience. Isotopic composition is what the water is made of.

“When water evaporates off a lake it goes from liquid water to gas. The light isotopes leave. The heavy ones stay behind,” Boutt said. “Over time, a lake or reservoir will have heavier and heavier water. Our study is trying to track the different masses from the sky, into the ground, and then back.”

Mostly, money will be used for salaries to build a database of analyzed samples, detailed maps, and put the findings online for anyone to access. Then, training workshops will be held for people who have a vested interest.

The data is important locally, when drought hits, and more broadly in relation to global warming. Boutt cited a separate report that found arctic water is moving elsewhere.

“As the arctic is warming more and more of that moisture is moving to New England,” Boutt added. “With this database we can start to track this and understand how the hydrological cycle is changing the source of moisture to the region.”

Boutt is looking for samples from wells and streams across the region. Anyone interested in contributing can call 413-545-2724, or email dboutt@geo.umass.edu.

Other Pioneer Valley recipients

Trout Unlimited Inc. of Chester and Worthington received a $38,600 award to “remove two impassable in-stream barriers and reopen access to over 30 miles of interconnected coldwater habitat on Kinne Brook, a tributary to the Middle Branch of the Westfield River,” according to the press statement.

“Protecting natural resources is a vital component in the fight against climate change,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “These grants will empower our communities to pursue local conservation efforts, building a more sustainable future for the Commonwealth as a whole.”

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

Twitter: @AndyCCastillo