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Watching the rivers' flow

August 11, 2010
DUDLEY — Residents concerned about the long-term health of the Quinebaug River and other nearby bodies of water got a look at the state's developing Sustainable Water Management Initiative Wednesday morning.

According to speaker Linda Hutchins, a hydrologist for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, what's at issue is the concept of "safe yield" — how much water can be drawn for human use while still leaving enough for plants and wildlife. This year, that's more noticeable than usual because the river is so low — the U.S. Geological Survey website showed the flow was 22 cubic feet per second at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Westville, less than half of that date's median flow over the 35 years of available data.

She said the initiative has been in progress for years, in some form, driven "a lot in response to demands from the environmental community," which has periodically challenged expanded water management permits on the grounds they had no safe yield data. Initially, she said safe yield was defined from an essentially engineering point of view, but the state is now trying to define "an environmental protective factor. We're not going to let withdrawals take all the water in a dry year."

A key part of the effort has been a statewide study to identify the "most pertinent factors" affecting water quality, quantity and habitat. So far, she said, they've found one issue especially stands out — how much "impervious" surface is in the affected watershed. Such surfaces — rooftops, pavement and other materials that prevent water from being absorbed by the ground, and instead cause it to flow over the surface as runoff — cause the river's population of key fish species to "go down quickly."

See Friday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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