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BRAT to assess Irene damage

The Black River Action Team is looking for funds and volunteers to help assess the Black River watershed's condition in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

The group plans to conduct a visual assessment of the watershed's condition sometime this summer.

"I expect we'll find lots of changes in the way the river now runs," BRAT executive director Kelly Stettner wrote in an e-mail, "a new channel, new islands, gravel banks and pools in different places. It's going to be interesting, seeing how the river is evolving."

The group will also be looking at areas where trash piles up so that it can be removed later.

Stettner said that the river's coloration is also a concern.

"I think one of the biggest changes we continue to see is the funky color of the water, the total lack of clarity in most places, especially on the main stem of the Black River," she wrote. "From the lakes in Ludlow on down, it's gray-green -- one of the projects that will be launched by the visual assessment will be a water quality monitoring program so we can look at that more specifically and scientifically."

BRAT volunteers first eyeballed the river and watershed in 2005, taking notes and making observations and photographing culverts and eroded banks, as well as scenic areas and wildlife. This assessment will be more comprehensive.

"This time around," Stettner wrote, "we'll be making a few more notes and exploring further into the watershed; communities in the upper reaches of the basin will be documented, and many tributaries of the Black River will be cataloged and recorded."

The Black River flows from Black Pond in Plymouth, heads through Ludlow and the lakes, and through the Cavendish Gorge to the Army Corps of Engineers dam in Springfield, from where it joins the Connecticut River downstream. The river's North Branch has its headwaters in Reading and connects with the rest of the river in Weathersfield.

Stettner said BRAT needs volunteers from all towns along the river.

"We've been contacting potential volunteers in towns as far as the headwaters of both the main stem of the Black River and the North Branch," she wrote. "Plymouth, Reading, Cavendish, Ludlow, Perkinsville, Weathersfield, North Springfield and Springfield are all getting involved. It's going to be exciting to finally have an in-depth inventory of conditions that far up into the watershed. If we can look at the tributaries, at least where they enter the Black River, that may be a launch-point for a more thorough look later."

The assessment will also find failed culverts and road crossings which may be too narrow to handle any future overflows, and identifying where sediment is pouring into the river.

In all, the entire project from assessment to final report is expected to cost about $5,000, Stettner said. Besides finding funds, the group will need to look at tax maps, collect landowner addresses, find volunteers and research the names of some of the lesser-known tributaries.

"I'm also asking for donations of used cell phones and MP3 players, empty inkjet and laserjet cartridges," Stettner wrote. "These items are recycled by me through a fundraising program that assigns a point value and cash value for each acceptable item."

Stettner said she hopes the data gathered by the volunteers will be put to good use.

"The final piece of the Assessment project is to do something with the information we've gathered," she wrote. "Since the BRAT is neither political nor regulatory in nature, this means a collaborative, community approach to improving the health of the river and increasing the integrity of our human infrastructure within the framework of the river's needs."

The group is working under the auspices of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. For information on donations visit www.blackriveractionteam.org.

Tagged: Black River Academy Museum, Irene, Black River Action Team, BRAT