Info session to discuss importance of protecting South River Watershed

  • The South River as it flows through the center of Conway shows signs of erosion in this photo taken as part of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ South River mapping project in 2016. File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/1/2021 6:01:13 AM

Conway and Ashfield residents are invited to a public information session to hear updates on completed South River resiliency work, and to learn about the next steps needed to continue building climate-resilient rivers and watersheds.

Scheduled for Wednesday, June 2, at 7:30 p.m., the meeting is accessible via Zoom. To register, visit bit.ly/SouthRiverConway.

Those in attendance will learn about the South River and its watershed, work completed with the current Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant, the next phase of work, and why climate-resilient rivers and watersheds are important.

“We’re trying not only to provide info, but provide people with an opportunity to have their questions answered,” Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) Land Use and Natural Resources Planning Program Manager Kimberly Noake MacPhee said.

According to informational posters provided by Noake MacPhee, the South River work will increase resiliency to more frequent and intense storms expected with future climate change; reduce flooding and erosion damage; and restore wildlife habitat degraded by past river alterations. The South River is prone to flooding and erosion. Water levels rise rapidly and large chunks of land can wash away during a single heavy rain.

It is not just climate change that is causing flooding and erosion. The damage is also a result of activities that occurred centuries ago along the river and across the watershed. Widespread clearing of land for agriculture in the 18th century, straightening and damming the river for mills in the 19th century, and developing roads, bridges and buildings in the 20th century further channeled the river and disconnected it from its floodplain. For the future, this means that the ability of the river to handle changes in the climate — in the form of more frequent and intense storms — is severely limited by its current condition.

According to FRCOG, Ashfield and Conway have worked together since 2011 to address several issues facing the watershed. The towns have conducted assessments on all bridges, culverts and drainage to prioritize them for repair and replacement.

Additionally, the local Trout Unlimited chapter worked with a landowner to plant a riparian buffer and fence cattle out of the stream, reducing sediment and nutrient load to the South River. The South River Meadow Restoration project, which was completed several years ago, reconnected the river to its floodplain to reduce flooding and stabilize eroding banks by trapping sediment.

Current funding for South River work is provided by the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership MVP Action Grant and the towns of Ashfield and Conway, according to Noake MacPhee. She also said Conway has applied for another round of MVP funding to continue work. For every $1 that Conway commits, $3 is provided by the state. Conway residents will vote on using town funds to increase flood resiliency during the June 5 Annual Town Meeting, at 1 p.m. at the Conway Grammer School.

“If Town Meeting votes for that, then the town will have the match for the pending grant application,” Noake MacPhee explained. “That pending grant application is to fund work to continue the outreach and research for resilient river corridor management practices.”

This year’s Annual Town Meeting has four critical warrant articles. Approval of Articles 20, 21, 22, 23A and 23B would allocate $175,145 in existing funds to acquire three unused riverfront properties for flood remediation.

Proposed projects awaiting funding will focus on reducing erosion and sedimentation in the South River Watershed and reducing flooding impacts. These projects, according to the FRCOG, include:

■Acquiring land at the mouth of Pumpkin Hollow Brook and the South River. This will allow the berm to be removed and reduce erosive forces on the retaining wall. The parcel Conway seeks to acquire, upstream of the Route 116 bridge, is 4.3 acres, and includes land on both sides of the South River.

■Creating an updated flood model that will allow the town to identify projects that could reduce flooding or improve resiliency in Conway Center.

■Replacing a culvert on Main Poland Road, which will reduce flood risks downstream, reduce erosion hazards at the crossing and allow for fish passage.

■An Oxbow Reconnection Project that will reduce erosive forces downstream, stabilize existing erosion and provide a dry hydrant for the Fire Department. The two parcels of land Conway seeks to acquire as part of the effort are unbuildable lots within the 100-year floodplain and river corridor.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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