News & AdvocacyNorwalk River Watershed Association
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Here are the letters we have sent advocating for water quality and habitat protections this year.
Concerns about PFAS Contamination in the Norwalk River Watershed
Of immediate concern in our watershed are plans in Norwalk to add multiple artificial turf fields next the the Norwalk River adjacent to drinking water wellfields. Artificial turf fields contain harmful chemicals and micro-plastics that leach from fields into surrounding soil and water. These fields threaten drinking water. Aquarion Water, which owns wellfields connected to Allens Meadow in Wilton where new fields have been proposed has expressed concern about the fields’ potential to contaminate surrounding well water. Fortunately, in May 2023, the town of Wilton voted not to add fields to that site.
Recent research out of Notre Dame University by Dr. Graham Peaslee confirms the existence of PFAS in artificial turf. Dr. Peaslee conducted a study of dozens of different new and used turfgrass samples for total fluorines and found the presence of the chemicals in all of them. Each blade of grass is coated in PFAS, but also all the layers of the field contain PFAS, as well. The machines that make the fields contain PFAS. Even fields made with “organic” infill contain PFAS and micro-plastics. Here is a brief explanation of the testing done at Notre Dame.
The EPA has issued a health advisory regarding PFAS levels in drinking water. New EPA limits on the two oldest PFAS chemicals (link) will go into place soon leaving towns, water companies and individuals holding the costs and responsibility for testing and remediation.
This March 1, 2023 NRWA webinar covers the public health risks associated with PFAS and artificial turf fields.
Norwalk plans to install three artificial turf fields at Broad River Park adjacent to, and connected by a stream to, the Kellogg-Deering wellfields operated by the First Taxing District Water Company. At least one of the FTD wells has been closed for over a year due to the presence of PFAS, and the PFAS testing NRWA did showed significantly higher levels in the Norwalk River and tributaries at this site than we found upriver in Wilton. Bringing more PFAS to this area poses a direct threat to Norwalk’s drinking water supply and to the health of the Norwalk River and Long Island Sound.
The Recreation & Parks Department has reported that the company Norwalk is working with, Field Turf, which claims their fields are PFAS-free. This same company, however, made this claim to the town of Portsmouth, NH. A Portsmouth group cut off a section of the new turf that was being installed in their town and had it tested for PFAS, and the tests showed a substantial presence of the chemicals.
The Norwalk Common Council is currently considering whether to go forward with 3 new Turf fields at Broad River and at least one new field at Norwalk High School. Norwalk residents can say NO to spending millions of dollars on fields that threaten public health! Call or write to
- Mayor Rilling
- Rec & Parks Chief Robert Stowers
- The Norwalk Common Council
PFAS Contamination Threatens the Health of Norwalk Harbor and the Shellfish Industry
NRWA and Copps Island Oysters have shared the cost of baseline testing of the Norwalk and Silvermine Rivers around both sites for new Turf fields in Wilton and Norwalk, and we are seeking funding to test the entire river system, its tributaries and the neighboring Saugatuck and Five Mile rivers. These rivers feed into the Sound at the center of Connecticut’s $30 million shellfish industry. In Florida, oysters have been found to be contaminated with PFAS, and both the Westport and Norwalk Shellfish Commissions are extremely concerned about the threat posed by PFAS.
Testing of the Norwalk River for PFAS
NRWA and Norm Bloom & Sons Oysters shared the cost of testing of the Norwalk River for PFAS chemicals, see bar graph above.
The Wilton First Selectwoman’s office questioned the quality of the PFAS testing NRWA commissioned from York Labs in Stratford. However, the tests were carried out by professionals at a State Certified Lab and the results are similar to those commissioned by the town where the test sites were the same. This article in Good Morning Wilton provides an overview. For copies of the lab results, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Image, right, of plans for new artificial fields at Allen’s Meadow in Wilton courtesy of Good Morning Wilton. The town voted not to install this field in Wilton.
Here are the tests commissioned by the town of Wilton. Here are the tests commissioned by NRWA of Allen’s Meadow and of Playing Field Retention pond: https://norwalkriver.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/23B0250-York_QA_Emerging_-DW-FINAL-02-14-2023-1546.pdf.
Here is a rundown of what you see when comparing the tests commissioned by NRWA from York Labs of and those commissioned by the town of Wilton from Thunderbird Labs:
Where our sites and their sites overlapped (2 at Allens Meadow site of planned new fields and the Cider Mill retention pond downstream of existing artificial turf fields) we found very similar levels of PFAS chemicals. York numbers add up to a higher total count because they included counts between 1 and 2 ppt and Thunderbird lab reported anything below 2 as ND (not detected).
- The NRWA lab, York, shows amounts in the retention pond are twice what they are at Allens when all PFAS levels were added). The Town lab, Thunderbird, did 2 tests of the pond and results show the pond holds 3 times the amount as Allens in one test and 5 times the amount in the other test.
- The town tested sites that NRWA did not test:
- Surface water from Götzen Brook as it passes out of Allens and past Lilly Field, and they found ND levels.
- Surface Water from the brook behind the stadium field, which had levels 3 times what they found at Allens
- Two underground drainage pipes near the fields that came back ND. (These depend on flow and weather. I don’t know all the factors that would make them different from all the surface water. )
What is PFAS?
Toxic chemicals known as Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances
(PFAS) that are linked to testicular and kidney cancer, liver damage, hormone disruption, increases in cholesterol, thyroid disruption, asthma, reproductive disorders including infertility, low birth weight, and decreased response to vaccines at levels in the parts per trillion. Known as forever chemicals because they don’t break down, even during incineration, contaminating water sources and soil, they are taken up by plants and contaminate fish, shellfish and wildlife.
More than 2,800 sites in all 50 states are contaminated by PFAS, forcing states and localities to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on cleaning up PFAS pollution in their communities and providing safe drinking water for their residents.
Despite these dangers, many consumer products continue to be made with PFAS chemicals to make the product stain or grease resistant, water-repellant and anti-stick. PFAS in consumer products not only expose consumers but contaminate the environment at the end of their use.
Connecticut became a national leader when we banned PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging — two major sources of contamination. But we must do more to “turn off the tap” of these highly toxic chemicals.
Many states, including New York (2022) and California (2022), are restricting consumer products containing PFAS — like carpets, rugs, textiles, cleaning products and cosmetics. Maine (2022) took a step further, requiring that manufacturers and distributors disclose the presence of PFAS in products sold in the state. The law gives Maine’s environmental agency authority to determine if the use of PFAS is essential. If not, the state can ban all products with non-essential use by 2030.
Connecticut should take bold action to “turn off the tap” on further toxic PFAS contamination. While testing and remediation are key, preventing further unnecessary contamination from consumer products— where safe alternatives exist — including artificial turf fields, is a common-sense next step.
Grupes Dam Restoration Project Updates and History
Thank you to everyone who supported the fight to save the riverbank at Grupes Reservoir in 2021. In the fall of 2021, The Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a decision to grant the First Taxing District the permit it requested which will allow for increasing the height of the dam, removing all vegetation and building a series of walls and berms along the east bank for 1500 feet from the dam along the service road. The area will include walls that extend in front of the Browne Wildlife Sanctuary and will disconnect its wetlands from the reservoir unfortunately.
In July 2022, the state Department of Public Health published a notice of scoping for the project. NRWA and the New Canaan Land Trust requested a public scoping meeting, which gives us chance to present our concerns to the Department of Public Health. The meeting was held September 19, 2022. NRWA’s comments are here.
More background information: Plans to repair and raise the Grupes Reservoir Dam in New Canaan, announced in February 2020 to the public, include removing over 400 native trees and shrubs along 1500 feet of riverbank in order to build a series of walls and berms along the eastern riverbank. The First Taxing District of Norwalk water company provides drinking water to Norwalk and a small section of New Canaan from the 4 dams and reservoirs it operates along the Silvermine River. The dams begin at the river’s source in Lewisboro, NY and end at the Grupes Dam along Valley Road, just adjacent to the New Canaan Land Trust’s Browne Wildlife Sanctuary.
NRWA and the New Canaan Land Trust were concerned that the negative environmental effects of removing the vegetation from the riverbank and disconnecting the wetlands of Browne Sanctuary from the Silvermine River were not included for review in the proposed permit application for the work that was submitted to the Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The dam, built in 1871, is in need of repair. NRWA appreciates the importance of the dam safety issues involved, but argued that a full review of the effects of the plan to wall off the eastern bank of the river should have been required. There are feasible alternative plans that repair the dam, protect the homes below the dam from potential flooding, and spare the riverbank and the beautiful, pristine wetlands that have been protected by the Land Trust since the 1960s.
Pictured here, the banks of the reservoir, an arial view of 1.5 acres of riverbank forest that would be lost under the plan, and one of the native shrubs (wild buttonbush) that will be lost if the current plans are implemented.
Pictured above, the banks of the reservoir, and below an arial view of 1.5 acres of riverbank forest that would be lost under the plan, and, above, one of the native shrubs (wild buttonbush) that will be lost if the current plans are implemented.
The 2021 Public Hearing
- Our wetland expert testified that the construction of the proposed berms and walls would effectively block the natural flow from a 50-acre watershed into the Grupes Reservoir. The resulting water would back up and cause flooding at the Browne Wildlife Sanctuary. Other impacts to wetlands and watercourses were identified as well that had been omitted from the water company’s application.
- Our dam engineer expert testified that feasible and prudent alternatives had not been considered, and provided alternative construction proposals that would lessen the impacts on adjacent wetlands, reduce the need for tree clearing and earthmoving, and reduce the overall distance of the berms and walls required for this project.
- Using the First Taxing District’s own documents and figures, we demonstrated that adequate concern had not been given to the environmental impacts of this project and that better alternatives existed.
Dana Dam at Merwin Meadows Slated to Come Down!
Also known as Strong Pond Dam, Dana Dam is one of the final barriers to migratory fish passage on the Norwalk River. Once removed, nearly 10 upstream miles will be reopened for fish passage, reconnecting a 14 mile stretch of free-flowing river with Long Island Sound. Fish will once again be able to swim upriver to their historic spawning grounds, and an integral part of Long Island Sound’s foodweb and ecosystem will be restored.
The project, coordinated by Save the Sound, will also mitigate flood risks and eliminate safety hazards posed by the dam, while restoring 1,400 feet of river channel for river herring, eel, sea lamprey, brook trout and other popular sport fish, along with 1.5 acres of riparian buffer for birds, mammals, amphibians and other wildlife.
Following the removal of the Flock Process Dam (Norwalk) in 2018, Dana Dam at Merwin Meadows Park (Wilton) became the first barrier to fish migration on the Norwalk River. After its removal, the Factory Pond Dams in Georgetown will be the last remaining barriers before the entire length of the Norwalk River runs free!
Top, a talk by Save the Sound about the process of removing the dam and restoring the river banks. Bottom, the current dam in black and white and a rendering of the restored area after the dam’s removal. ______________________________________________________________________________
Update on the Dam at the Great Swamp in Ridgefield
The Natural Resource Conservation Service has proposed removing the dam in Ridgefield at the start of the Norwalk River. Here are NRWA’s comments on the proposal. Here is the draft plan for removal.
Aquarion Water Company applied for a permit in early October 2018 to pump 1 million gallons per day from a previously unused well next to the Norwalk River in the Cannondale area of Wilton, reducing the flow of the river by up to 10% of the previous 7-day average for 25 years. We have serious concerns about the effects this diversion could have on the river, area wetlands, and possibly nearby private wells. The water will go to Southwest Fairfield County (Greenwich, Stamford, Darien and New Canaan) and Ridgefield to improve drought resiliency.
NRWA questions whether this well is necessary at this time, or whether drought resiliency could be met through water conservation, infrastructure repairs, and other improvements.
Harbor Watch reports that water quality in the Norwalk River fails to meet minimum state standards roughly 81% of the time.
Low flows contribute to impairment of our rivers almost every summer. During the summer, 70% of the water we use is used outside, and this water is coming out of our rivers. Even if your water source is from a well, that ground water feeds rivers and wetlands. All water is connected!
NRWA feels drought resiliency should be achieved through water conservation. If you agree that we need to work together to help leave more water in our rivers, find out more about how to conserver water here and let your town leaders and CT DEEP know.
More action to take: Ask your town officials about their stormwater management plans and what they are doing to protect our river from runoff. We need to let them know we want them to enforce Inland Wetlands regulations and setbacks from waterways for new development.
Join Us To Build A Pollinator Pathway. Find out more here. Also, check out our new website pollinator-pathway.org. And follow us on facebook at @Wilton Pollinator Pathway; @Ridgefield Pollinator Pathway & @Norwalk Pollinator Pathway.
Our new yard medallion signs are here! Order one today.
Thank you to all the volunteers who came out all summer and fall to plant pollinator gardens along the Pollinator Pathway! Special thanks to REI, FactSet, Ridgefield Rotary Club, Wilton Garden Club, Town of Ridgefield for funding the purchase of plants for our Pollinator Pathway habitat restoration projects.
Audubon Connecticut has recognized the Great Meadows, lush farmland and forested wetlands along an 8-mile stretch of the Connecticut River, as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The Great Meadows IBA includes Rocky Hill and Glastonbury Meadows, Wethersfield Cove and Crow Point in Wethersfield, and Keeney Point in Glastonbury and East Hartford. This area provides important stopover habitat for several declining grassland bird species including Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Bobolink, Horned Larks, and Savannah Sparrow. It is also an important area for waterfowl, such as Canada Geese, American Black Duck, Mallard, Wood Duck, Common Merganser, and Green-winged Teal, particularly in spring migration. Bald Eagle nest at two locations within the IBA and 20 percent of the area is floodplain forest, a key habitat identified in the Connecticut’s Wildlife Action Plan. Read more…
NRWA and Woodcock Nature Center collaborate on a series of Community Conservation Initiatives involving library talks tied to volunteer community service action. Check the events page for details.
Native Plant of the Month: Amelanchier Canadensis
FOR WILDLIFE VALUE AND BEAUTY ADD SHADBLOWS TO YOUR GARDEN
Shadblow, or Serviceberry, is one of the first small understory trees to bloom in the spring. It has frost-resistant flowers that are fragrant, white and showy and bloom before the leaves open. These flowers provide an important early season nectar source for butterflies and other beneficial insects. A Connecticut native, with tremendous wildlife value, shadblow was so named because it fruits in June when the shad (a northern fish) run. Researchers have documented at least 26 different types of wildlife that feed on its berries, starting in June when its fruit reaches maturity. The berries, red to dark-purple-black when ripe, are especially popular with songbirds, including bluebirds, robins, cardinals, orioles, waxwings and thrushes, in addition to chipmunks and squirrels.
A handsome landscape plant, that is low-maintenance, shadblow grows well in full sun or part shade. It reaches an average height of 6-15 feet, depending on the amount of sunlight and moisture it receives. Generally a shrubby tree, it will grow as a single-stemmed tree if shoots are removed. Shadblow shows a wide soil tolerance and can even grow in heavy clay soils. Able to thrive in suburban landscapes, its native habitat includes woodlands, grasslands and coastal riparian areas or wetlands. Leaf color ranges from light green in spring, to dark green in summer, and fall color is striking with shades of orange, gold, red and green.
Shadblow plantings are particularly effective against a dark or shaded woodland edge, which tends to highlight its form, flowers and radiant fall color. It is also effective along stream banks and ponds. Good companion plants include Eastern Redbud, Eastern Sweetshrub, violets and sedges. –By Elizabeth Craig
(NATIVE PLANT OF THE MONTH is a new series by NRWA master gardeners, Jackie Algon and Elizabeth Craig)
NRWA recently attended a meeting with Mayor Harry Rilling’s Bike/Walk Task Force, which is charged with making Norwalk’s streets and sidewalks safer for everyone. One of the group’s first projects was to create a map that shows existing bike routes, bike lanes and sharrowed (lanes to be shared by cyclists and motorists) lanes in the City and suggesting where additional routes could be developed. One of its current projects is developing a strategic plan for the next two years. It has drafted a plan and is currently vetting it with several shareholder groups. The task force meets the first Monday of each month, unless it’s a holiday. If it’s a holiday, they meet on the second Monday of the month. The meeting is from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm in the second floor conference room at the Norwalk Health Department, 137 East Avenue. All are welcome to attend. You can find out more about the taskforce here.
The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) and the Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC) have both released annual studies on hypoxia levels in Long Island Sound. Hypoxia occurs when seawater contains low levels of dissolved oxygen, below 3mg per liter as defined by these studies. Marine life needs dissolved oxygen in water to survive, so sustained periods of hypoxia threaten sea ecosystems. Oxygen levels can fall naturally during the summer when calm weather prevents the churning of seawater, which mixes oxygen rich surface waters with bottom water as happens in other seasons. However, according to the CT DEEP, “studies of the limited historical data base for the Sound suggest that summer oxygen depletion in Western Long Island Sound has grown worse since the 1950s.” Hypoxic conditions mainly occur in the Narrows and Western Basic of Long Island Sound, west of the line from Stratford, CT to Port Jefferson, NY. Both the CT DEEP and the IEC have been monitoring dissolved oxygen levels in the Sound since 1991.
Of the eight cruises conducted by CT DEEP in the summer of 2015, five different stations were documented as hypoxic, and of the 252 site visits completed in 2015, hypoxic conditions were found in four surveys. Compared to the previous 24-year average, 2015 was below average in area and near average in duration. Both the CT DEEP report and the IEC report are full of information on the state of water quality and marine life health in the Sound over the last 25 years.
WHO: Monsanto’s Roundup ‘probably carcinogenic’
Accreditation course will teach landscapers how to avoid using chemical agents
By FRANCIS CARR Jr.
Hour Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, August 31, 2015 5:45 pm
GREENWICH — This fall, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CT NOFA) will lead its Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care in Fairfield County for the first time.
In March, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a report declaring glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup, a widely used agricultural herbicide produced by chemical giant Monsanto — to be “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
“For decades, people have been led to believe that glyphosate and other organophosphates are not harmful to people or the environment,” said Jeff Cordulack, executive director of CT NOFA. “This is not the case, and many studies (including this latest report by WHO) have pointed to their dangers.”
Due to health and soil damage risks associated with chemical pesticides and herbicides, as well as Connecticut’s 2010 ban on chemical pesticides near elementary schools, it would behoove landscapers and landscape architects, as well as environmental educators and lawn enthusiasts, to familiarize themselves with methods of chemical-free land care, said Jeff Cordulack, executive director of CT NOFA. …article continued.
Wilton Daisy Troop Spruces up Rain Garden
Thanks to Wilton Daisy Troop 50229 members Grace Couch, Mackenzie Northway and Emma-Hayes Setterlund for their good work planting native plants at the Wilton Playshop Rain Garden, designed and installed by Michael Dietz of UConn’s NEMO Program. The Scouts worked with Elizabeth Craig to add red Cardinal Flowers, Joe Pyeweed and ferns.
You can make a difference every time it rains at your house, too. Non-point source pollution (run-off from impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, roads and parking lots) has been cited by the US EPA as a major source of pollution for our waterways. Rain gardens catch runoff, filtering it before it reaches rivers and streams. For more information visit http://nemo.uconn.edu/raingardens/.
NRWA Works with REI to Enhance Hiking Trail
Last Fall local volunteers, REI and NRWA planted nine native Connecticut trees along the section of the Norwalk River Valley Trail between Union Park and Mathews Park in Norwalk. Volunteers cleaned up the trail and cut back invasive plant species. Watch for more opportunities this spring to help enhance trails and river banks in the watershed.
NRWA Helps Install Model Rain Garden in Wilton
In partnership with UCONN’s NEMO program, NRWA and volunteers from the community created a model rain garden at the Wilton Play Shop on Lover’s Lane in Wilton. Rain gardens catch and help filter contaminants from storm water runoff from roofs, parking lots and other impervious surfaces before they reach rivers and other waterways. For more information on rain gardens, visit the UCONN NEMO site. Photograph courtesy of Clear Choices Clean Water.