Patience and persistence pay off

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

By River Network

This week, we celebrate the work of one of America’s oldest, strongest and most effective river groups: the Housatonic Valley Association.

149 miles long, the Housatonic River flows from western Massachusetts and Connecticut through southeastern New York before entering Long Island Sound. Its 2,000 square-mile watershed includes the lovely Berkshire Hills, numerous large wetlands, and bucolic pastoral areas. It also encompasses no fewer than 83 towns. They range from classic, picturesque New England villages, to larger cities such as Danbury, Derby and Shelton to the seaside towns of Milford and Stratford.

The Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) was founded in 1941 by land planner and Yale professor Charles Downing Lay. Mr. Lay believed that caring people could prepare for growth in the valley by guiding more intensive development away from its most sensitive and important natural resources, including wetlands and streams.

That’s just what HVA has done for more than seven decades. In recent years it has also been a champion of low-impact development techniques. The watershed looks and functions far differently today than it would have without HVA’s visionary leadership on growth and development issues.

For the past 35 years, HVA has also persistently kept responsible parties on track with the long-term work to rid the Housatonic of serious PCB contamination. This is a reminder that there are no quick fixes to some environmental problems; once created, they may take tremendous amounts of time and money to solve. Solve them we must – but we must also be vigilant to keep new ones from being created. It takes a great watershed group that’s able to do both of these essential jobs over decades to make real and lasting progress.

One of HVA’s most exciting recent accomplishments is the adoption of new statewide streamflow standards and regulations. Over time, the new rules will help solve many of the state’s current flow problems and avoid the creation of many new ones. The new Connecticut Streamflow Regulations were the product of years of scientific work and patient coalition-building by HVA; its lead collaborator, the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut; and many other project partners.

HVA’s Dick Sears says that Executive Director Lynn Werner’s role was vital in the development of the new streamflow rules: “She was an active participant over the long haul and knew the issues inside and out. Most importantly, Lynn brought her skilled leadership to the table by understanding the needs of the key stakeholders and building trust and cooperation. She knows the most effective way to make a lasting impact on environmental issues is by building coalitions and forming partnerships.”

Now HVA is leading a collaborative of area land trusts – twenty-four in total – in northwest Connecticut, helping them to work across town lines to conserve some of the region’s largest and most important tracts of remaining forest, farmland and riparian corridors. The effort aims to get ahead of the development curve while the downturn in new development continues throughout southern New England. The organization is also building a new collaboration among local river advocates in the Housatonic Watershed to identify and fix nutrient pollution problems – a major threat to the river – and improve storm water management in the face of increasing storm frequency and intensity. Like many eastern rivers, the Housatonic experienced three “100-year” storm events in the last year alone.

HVA’s exemplary collaborative work brought a smile to one of the best friends that rivers and river groups ever had: Dr. Marc Taylor. Marc was the founder of the watershed coalition for the Pomperaug River, a major tributary of the Housatonic. He was also a common denominator for the Housatonic Valley Association, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, and River Network, having served on the boards of all three, and as chair of both the River Network Board and the HVA Board in recent years.

Marc passed away last June. Next May, at the 2013 River Rally in St. Louis, we will establish a new award in his honor. The Confluence Award will be presented annually to an organization or coalition that has succeeded in river conservation through the types of collaborative efforts that Marc promoted.

Please make plans now to be part of the celebration of Dr. Marc Taylor’s legacy at the 2013 Rally in St. Louis May 17-20. In the meantime, join us in celebrating one of America’s oldest and greatest watershed groups – the Housatonic Valley Association!

• For more information, explore some HVA Publications.

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