UMass Amherst and State Environmental Agency Working Together to Protect Watersheds

AMHERST, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts and the state’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) are joining forces to protect Massachusetts watersheds.

EOEA and the University have signed an agreement providing $380,000 in state funds for 10 projects to be directed by UMass faculty across the state during the next 18 months. The work involves research and outreach and is interdisciplinary in nature, with faculty and student interns from several departments participating.

The projects support EOEA’s Watershed Initiative, a grass-roots approach to protecting the state’s 27 watersheds, according to Robert O’Connor, EOEA watershed manager. The Watershed Initiative, says O’Connor, calls for EOEA to work with municipalities and other local groups through a network of watershed team leaders to devise ways to eliminate and/or prevent non-point pollution, which is the pollution of rivers, lakes, and ponds caused by run-off from paved areas, farmlands, or other types of land use.

The University, says O’Connor, is a "tremendous resource" in the commonwealth and a relationship between EOEA and the campus makes a lot of sense. "UMass can assist us by providing the technical expertise necessary to implement our initiative; the knowledge and the enthusiasm are all right there."

"This type of watershed-based initiative is gaining importance as a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to address environmental and growth issues at a community level," says Timothy Randhir, assistant professor of forestry and wildlife management. "This contract will develop new methods in watershed planning and will develop a strong University-EOEA partnership toward watershed research and outreach."

Randhir will oversee or help to coordinate five of the 10 projects covered by the agreement. One of the largest, which he will supervise with Guy Lanza, director of the University’s environmental science program, will place eight UMass undergraduate or graduate students as interns to EOEA watershed team leaders in central and western Massachusetts. The interns will work on special projects as designated by the team leaders.

Randhir will also develop a reference manual of resources for handling watershed issues and design an education model that will enable watershed team leaders to tailor similar programs for communities and schools in their areas of the state. In addition, Randhir will conduct a research and outreach project in the Blackstone River watershed aimed at developing a community-based, sustainable watershed plan for growth, ecosystem protection, and watershed management. In the Taunton watershed, he will work to develop a model for land protection and open-space planning.

Other projects funded in the agreement include:

* Paul Barten, a faculty member in the department of forestry and wildlife management, will oversee a water quality-monitoring program in the Chicopee and Deerfield watersheds that will involve planning and implementation by students and volunteers.

* Scott Jackson, conservation specialist for UMass Extension, will develop workshops to train watershed team leaders. He will also work on developing an outreach theme for the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative that will include a marketing plan, outreach materials, and training for a selected audience.

* Computer analysis will be utilized to develop a plan for the French/Quinebaug watershed (located in central Massachusetts, near Sturbridge, and extending south, into Connecticut), which has one of the least-developed programs in the state. Physical setting, land use, and recreation will be key factors in developing the plan, to be developed by community groups under the direction of Jack Ahern, head of the department of landscape architecture and regional planning.

* Karen Searcy, of the biology department, will develop an inventory of rare plants near Lake Rohunta, a wetland area threatened by potential future development and the widening of Route 2. (Lake Rohunta is located in the Millers River watershed, north of the Quabbin Reservoir and between the towns of Athol, Orange, and New Salem.)