Berkshire Woods and Waters: What is the DER and what does it do?

The Massachusetts Division of Environmental Restoration (DER) was created in 2009 with the merger of the Riverways and Wetlands Restoration Programs.

DER coordinates ecological restoration to improve habitat for fish and wildlife and restores important ecosystem services that improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts citizens. DER works with many partners across a variety of aquatic systems, from freshwater to saltwater, to restore the ecological integrity of degraded habitats for the benefit of people and the environment.

In 2016 alone, the Division removed two dams and completed two wetland restoration projects, restoring 285 acres and opening 13 river miles statewide. It advanced work on multiple river and wetland restoration projects that have recently initiated construction or will begin construction next year. Once complete, those projects will remove eight dams, reconnect more than 78 river miles and restore nearly 280 acres of degraded wetlands.

Using Commonwealth funds, DER leveraged $10 million in newly awarded external funds. Volunteers worked in 72 communities, devoting more than $100,000 worth of labor towards protecting and restoring our rivers and wetlands. The DER provided technical support and guidance in more than 170 communities and across all 27 major watersheds.

DER, together with its partners, has restored in total over 1,800 acres of coastal wetlands and reconnected over 250 miles.

In Western Mass., the DER was recently awarded a $179,620 grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. The grant will build municipal capacity to upgrade culverts and increase the pace of culvert replacement in the Deerfield River Watershed. The Deerfield River has an abundance of coldwater streams, which provide essential habitat for fish species.

In 2011, many towns were hard hit in the region after Tropical Storm Irene. This grant, in conjunction with other DER funds, will immediately advance the design and/or construction of up to six culverts in the Deerfield River Watershed and, in time, will lead to many more replacements.

DER's Streamflow Restoration program continues to work with municipal partners in Pittsfield to improve streamflow below recreational dams. This past winter, DER installed a telemetry station at the Onota Lake dam that measures water level and assists with lake management and downstream releases to Peck's Brook, a tributary to the West Branch of the Housatonic River.

Last fall, DER also funded a survey of macro-invertebrates in Peck's Brook, along with several other streams in the area, to better quantify changes in the aquatic community after modifications were made to upstream dam management. Recent monitoring shows significant improvements in both streamflow and macro-invertebrate populations in the brook, despite 2016 drought conditions.

In 2017, DER will be working on 11 new priority projects, adding to its total roster of 62 projects. Here in the Berkshires, the Kitchen Brook Dam in Cheshire has a provisional status of Significant Hazard. It has an impassable obstruction on the brook, which drains part of Mount Greylock's eastern slope and is tributary to the coldwater trout stream Thunder Brook.

That brook is where DER previously worked with the town to remove another aging dam and to replace an undersized culvert with a fish-friendly crossing. Removal of Kitchen Brook Dam will open up four miles of high quality cold water habitat for Eastern Brook Trout.

The Kinne Brook Dam in Chester was removed in 2014, and now two undersized culverts will be replaced in 2017-2018. The goal is to restore river functions to the high-quality, cold-water stream, which is a tributary to the Westfield River. It is abundant with eastern brook trout. The barrier removals were done in partnership with Trout Unlimited and others.

Several years ago, the DER removed a dam on the North Branch of the Hoosic River in Clarksburg. Now, there is an Urban River Restoration Priority Project planned for the Hoosic River in North Adams.

The goal is to modernize North Adams' aging concrete flood chutes with habitat, river and community friendly modifications while maintaining existing flood risk management levels. So far, a concept design for the South Branch Hoosic River restoration is in place, including preliminary designs for a Phase I restoration in the Noel Field area.

Soil, sediment and groundwater sampling was just completed in the Phase I restoration area. Concept design work for the North Branch of the Hoosic River is just beginning and will take about a year to complete.

The DER is a division which reports directly to the Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game. Tim Purington is its director. It is one of my favorite state agencies because we can see tangible results which affects our lives and benefits the critters. I hope it continues to receive sufficient funding to accomplish its very important work.

Trout Stockings

The following local waters were scheduled to be stocked last week (due to the rain and high waters, this schedule was subject to change): Ashfield Pond, Housatonic River (East Branch) in Dalton and Hinsdale, Housatonic River SW Branch in Pittsfield, Pontoosuc Lake, Lake Garfield, Lake Buel, Windsor Lake in North Adams, Onota Lake, Goose Pond and Windsor Pond in Windsor.

Water Safety

According to the Massachusetts Environmental Police, most boating fatalities in the Commonwealth result when boaters fail to wear life jackets while in small craft in cold water or weather.

Paddlers in canoes and kayaks are required to wear life jackets from Sept. 15-May 15. They also advise us to make sure everyone wears a life jacket, follows navigation rules, such as safe speed and spotters, never boat under the influence and keep in touch by using cell phones, etc.

Don't panic if you fall into the water. Stay afloat with the help of your life jacket, regain control of your breathing, keep your head above water in vision of rescuers and stay with the boat if possible.

Questions/comments: Phone: (413) 637-1818.


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