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Study to determine source of excess nitrogen in Conn. River

  • Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection Martin Suuberg, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matt Beaton and Jonathan Morrison of the US Geological Survey speak at the water sampling site off Old Bernardston Road at the Connecticut River in Northfield on Tuesday. June 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—PAUL FRANZ

  • US Geological Survey employee Patrick McNamara launches a remote control “Q Boat” that measures water depth and velocity at the water sampling site off Old Bernardston Road at the Connecticut River in Northfield on Tuesday. June 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—PAUL FRANZ

  • A remote control “Q Boat” motors back and forth across the Connecticut River measuring water depth and velocity at the water sampling site off Old Bernardston Road at the Connecticut River in Northfield on Tuesday. June 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—

  • US Geological Survey staff take water samples at various depths of the Connecticut River in Northfield on Tuesday. June 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—PAUL FRANZ

  • US Geological Survey staff take water samples at various depths of the Connecticut River in Northfield on Tuesday. June 19, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

NORTHFIELD — Fish populations in the Long Island Sound are decreasing because there’s too much nitrogen in the Connecticut River. A study now going on partly in town will help determine how much of the excess nitrogen is coming from Massachusetts.

The connection between nitrogen in the Connecticut River and the fish life of the Long Island Sound is that nitrogen is a food source for certain kinds of algae. When the Connecticut River empties into the Long Island Sound, the nitrogen piles up for algae to feed on. When the algae die, they fall to the bottom of the water where they decay, a process that consumes oxygen. This leaves less oxygen in the water for other kinds of life, especially in the deeper waters.

A lot of the nitrogen leaking into the river probably comes from wastewater treatment plants that are situated within the river’s watershed. Smaller amounts probably come from farms and homes. But because the Connecticut River runs through Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut, it is difficult to determine how much of the nitrogen in the Long Island Sound is coming from where.

This study, which is being run jointly by the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, is trying to obtain that data. Since October, scientists from the Geological Survey have been taking water samples from the Connecticut River in Northfield weekly whenever the river isn’t frozen. By comparing water samples from Northfield — where the Connecticut River crosses Massachusetts’s northern border — to samples taken in Thompsonville, Conn., — where the river passes Massachusetts’ southern border — they can determine how much the water changes as it passes through Massachusetts. There are similar setups for the other three states that the river passes through.

The state will use this data to determine whether investments in nitrogen removal programs for wastewater treatment plants would be worthwhile. The study will continue until September, but the three groups funding it may choose to extend it for up to three years after that.

Contact Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261