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Growth impacting Taunton River

By MIKE STUCKA Gazette Staff Writer



BRIDGEWATER - The Taunton River basin is unusually intact, but rapid development threatens to wreck the river's life, environmental researchers said this week in discussions organized by the Taunton Wild & Scenic River Study group.

Different projects have brought scientists up the Taunton River as far as the Segregansett River and the Weir Village, while a newly expanded research project from upstream has brought researchers down toward Taunton-based tributaries including the Three Mile River and the Mill River.

Alison Bowden, an aquatic ecologist with The Nature Conservancy, said the Taunton River is host to some high-quality habitats and rare species that may be threatened by new development and water withdrawals.

"The overall health of this watershed is good, but the estuary has problems," Bowden said.

Some of the growth could put greater strain on Brockton's sewer plant, which Bridgewater State College researcher Kevin Curry said accounted for 75 percent of some of the chemicals polluting a Taunton River tributary, the Matfield River. Officials have proposed expanding the plant.

"I think we really need regional wastewater planning," Curry said. "Otherwise we're going to lose the Upper Taunton River."

According to a draft study that Curry is helping prepare, excessive amounts of nutrients, including phosphorous and nitrate, are the most urgent problem in the headwaters. Curry said he also found significant - but lower - levels of nitrates in the Three Mile River, which runs eight miles from Norton to Taunton.

Entomologist Fred SaintOurs worked with Tim Watts and other volunteers to check some of the insect life along the Taunton River. While other researchers were looking at where the Taunton River expanded into Mount Hope Bay, SaintOurs was studying streams small enough to walk across, some of which were not large enough to be named or even appear on maps. SaintOurs found great diversity in the small streams, while he also found the first "Dragonhunter" dragonfly ever found in Plymouth County.

Working at the opposite end of the Taunton River is Roland Samimy, a UMASS-Dartmouth researcher who is working on the Massachusetts Estuaries Project. His monitoring of Mount Hope Bay and farther up the river show problems. He found high chlorophyl and nitrogen levels, while oxygen levels were worse than poor in spots.

"Mount Hope Bay sucks, basically, from a habitat point of view," he said.

Samimy is collecting plenty of data that will eventually be used to model the Taunton River and its pollutants, which could lead to a prescription of managing and monitoring the river. Individual streams that feed the Taunton River have their stewards, while towns have been trying to look after their section of the Taunton River. Nothing has tied them together to care for the Taunton River, he said.

"Mount Hope Bay needs a champion," Samimy said.

The results of the presentations at Bridgewater State College will be discussed at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow in the offices of Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District, 88 Broadway, Taunton.

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ŠThe Taunton Gazette 2005