Towns team up to improve Still River

Seven towns have joined forces in partnership with the Housatonic Valley Association, state, federal and regional agencies and area nonprofits to make the Still River safer and improve its recreational offerings.

The river flows into the Housatonic River and, ultimately, Long Island Sound.

To reduce pollution in the river, New Milford, Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, Newtown, New Fairfield and Ridgefield are developing a watershed management plan.

The project is funded by grants from the Fairfield County Community Foundation and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Section 319 Nonpoint Source Grant Program Fund.

The partners agree to analyze existing information about the river, collect new information and form a subcommittee to select a consultant who will develop the watershed management plan.

The plan will include information about where stormwater runoff is greatest and the type of projects that will stop or prevent pollution from entering the Still River. This information will also be shared with the public.

While the Still River has made a dramatic comeback since the 1972 Clean Water Act, its recovery progress has reached a plateau.

The river remains unsafe for recreation, according to the 2014 State of Connecticut Integrated Water Quality Report to Congress.

Polluted runoff from roads, roofs and parking lots is a chief reason, regularly causing concentrations of pollutants to spike above levels safe for human contact.

HVA Water Protection Director Michael Jastremski said watershed-scale management issues cannot be addressed effectively by individual communities as the causes generally go beyond town boundaries.

He added storms and associated flooding are expected to become more frequent and intense in Connecticut with climate change.

Flooding and water pollution problems are often closely related, complicated and expensive to fix, he added.

Jastremski said watershed-wide collaboration and planning can identify the most serious problems and the best opportunities to restore natural rainwater infiltration to prevent erosion and flood damage.

Some ideas suggested by the partners include examining the stormwater system of the Danbury Fair Mall and encourage owners of large commercial properties to join the partnership and guide the creation of the plan.

Also discussed have been ways to reduce pavement and help infiltrate rainwater in parking areas such as installing grass pavers similar to those used in the Westfarms Mall in West Hartford.

Still River towns currently taking measures to curb stormwater pollution and measure pollution in streams that flow into the Still River are Brookfield, Newtown and Danbury.

Ryan Boggan of the Danbury Health Department said the department tests beaches at Lake Kenosia and Candlewood Lake using the state Department of Health protocol to identify new pollution sources.

Ray Sullivan of the Brookfield Health Department said his town protects public water supplies and is extending sewer lines and studying tributary streams to identify water quality problems.

Brookfield also encourages businesses to hook up to municipal water and sewer lines.

George Benson of the Newtown Land Use Department said his staff has been identifying pipe locations and sources of pollution along the river for nine years as well as taking macroinvertebrate samplings (collecting aquatic insects to determine water quality).

When completed, the watershed management plan will include a description of the existing conditions of the Still River watershed, field reports from locations along the river and its tributary streams, and an action plan to remedy problem areas that permit polluted stormwater into the river.

The public will be able to review and comment on the draft plan and that information will be incorporated into the final plan, when the HVA will work with the Still River communities to make it final.

Adoption would then help the seven towns apply for funding to complete the projects identified in the plan.